, generally noted in his native New York City
as an excellent jazz pianist, is even more widely known as proprietor of two of the city's leading jazz clubs, Smalls
. Though hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, Wilner has soldiered on, presenting live music whenever possible and forming the SmallsLIVE Foundation, a non-profit arts group dedicated to creating and propagating jazz in New York through recordings, live streaming, archiving, educational initiatives and live performances. Wilner's foundation teamed up with fellow musician and entrepreneur Cory Weeds
' Cellar Music Group to produce Aliens & Wizards
, a splendid trio date showcasing Wilner, bassist Tyler Mitchell
and drummer Anthony Pinciotti
Besides leading the trio, Wilner, who shows admirable control of the keyboard, wrote six of the album's nine selections to accompany the standards "Blue Gardenia," "Stella by Starlight" and the high-stepping opener, "Righty-O!" Even though Wilner's compositions are laudable, the other three clearly stand among the album's highlights. Wilner earns high marks for the earnest, hymn-like "Prayer for Peace," which modulates to soulful blues and freewheeling jazz before returning to its reverential taproot, and for the fast-paced finale, "Trick Baby" (aka "Love for Sale"), wherein everyone loosens up and lets the sparks fly as they may, as they do earlier on Wilner's double-quick "Non Troppo."
The mercurial "Righty-O!" ("Lady Be Good"?) would test any trio's mettle; Wilner and his mates not only meet the challenge head-on but do a commendable job of taming the beast. Wilner frames a crisp solo, which is followed by dynamic four-bar exchanges with Pinciotti. That leads to a trio of Wilner's amiable charts: "Non Troppo," "Adagio" and "Mindset," followed by "Gardenia" and "Stella," whose inherent charms are earnestly brought to the fore by the trio. Wilner is notably eloquent on "Gardenia," well-spoken and sturdy on "Stella," wherein Mitchell also solos sharply. As Aliens & Wizards
was recorded in August 2020, "at the height of the pandemic," as the liner notes attest, the assumption is that everyone was suitably masked and distanced. Whatever the case, Wilner's trio has recorded an impressive session, which, as icing on the cake, is devoted to a good cause. Let's hope that normal times return soon to Smalls and Mezzrowand, indeed, to every venue in New York City and around the countryrekindling the fire and excitement of live jazz for audiences who have for too long been unable to respond to and appreciate its insuperable spirit.
Righty-O!; Non Troppo; Adagio; Mindset; Blue Gardenia; Stella By Starlight; Aliens & Wizards;
Prayer For Peace; Trick Baby.