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Spike Wilner: La Tendresse

Dan Bilawsky By

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There are few greater champions of the old and new in jazz than pianist/club owner/musical antiquarian Spike Wilner. His role in resuscitating and running one of the most important night spots for jazz in New York—Smalls Jazz Club—has made him a hero to those who frequent that bastion of musical integrity, but he's also revered as an ivory tickling keeper-of-the-flame for musical styles of yesteryear. Stride piano and ragtime are at the root of his playing, but he also mixes modern sensibilities into his work, demonstrating a one-foot-in-the-past and one-foot-in-the-present musical philosophy.

Wilner's work blankets the entire history of jazz piano, as he moves from parlor playing and rent party romping to supper club elegance to modern manifestations with ease, but he still sounds best when working through old gems and giving nods to piano giants of the past. "If I Only Had A Brain" has a dainty design at first, but eventually bears the mark of Wilner's hero—the cigar-smoking, derby-wearing Willie "The Lion" Smith.

Moving in a different direction, "Solace" struts along with New Orleans swagger, fusing Scott Joplin-esque tendencies with Jelly Roll Morton moves. Wilner goes on to channel Duke Ellington on the great man's "Le Sucrier Velours," but he's his own man when he tackles Thelonious Monk. He tips his hat to the High Priest of Bop on "Crepuscule With Nellie," but never resorts to flat-out imitation.

The title track gives Wilner a chance to move forward a few decades. Donning a modernist's attire, he makes some Herbie Hancock-meets-McCoy Tyner allusions, and works through a cyclonic section of music, but the majority of the program isn't as bold.

While this is a piano showcase from start to finish, Wilner's trio mates make their mark along the way. Bassist Dezron Douglas' woody tones give the music depth and direction, while drummer Joey Saylor finds the right tack to take with every tune. Wilner could carry the whole program on his own, but the rhythm section adds volumes to the music.

Wilner and pianist/label mate Ehud Asherie—who can also frequently be found performing at Smalls—have proven that "old" and "outmoded" are two very different things. Both men have made their mark by putting their chops and knowledge of early twentieth century piano stylings to good use on their respective dates for Posi-Tone. Now, it's high time for them to get together for a two-piano date, whether cutting contest or collaborative affair. Wouldn't that be something!?!

Track Listing: La Tendresse; If I Only Had A Brain; Solace; Silver Cord; Always; Lullaby Of The Leaves; After You've Gone; Le Sucrier Velours; Little Girl Blue; Crepuscule With Nellie; I'm So Glad We Had This Time Together; Happy Ending.

Personnel: Spike Wilner: piano; Dezron Douglas: bass; Joey Saylor: drums.

Title: La Tendresse | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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