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Midwest Record gives us a look at “Central Line” by Art Hirahara

mindset2Here’s a piano man bold enough to make a modern, mainstream date and doing it while surrounding himself with hell raisers like Donny McCaslin, Rudy Royston and Linda Oh.  Swinging easy but to the left, you won’t mistake this
for cocktail jazz but Hirahara could do a killer job on that form if he every chose to take the easy way out.  Piano fans take note, this is a date not to be missed. Hot stuff.

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All About Jazz schools us on Werner’s teachings on enlightenment on “Koan”

mindset2I have an idea that pianist Spike Wilner has read Kenny Werner‘s book Effortless Mastery: Liberating The Master Musician Within (1996), because Koan emulates Werner’s lessons in surrendering one’s self to music. Werner’s teachings on enlightenment flow through this trio recording, Wilner’s sixth as a leader.

As a disciple of Harlem stride and ragtime, Wilner, like so many modern pianists from Thelonious Monk to McCoy Tyner, has the ability to open his own book at any page in the history of jazz. With his capable trio of bassist Tyler Mitchell and drummer Anthony Pinciotti, he delivers a dozen crisp and elegant compositions, half of which are his own.

The disc opens with the locomotive “Iceberg Slim,” the motility provided by his left hand and the swing his right. His flawless approach on the traditional Tadd Dameron bebop anthem “Hot House” is that of an imagined Bud Powell playing impeccable notes in heaven. When a pianist has the talents Wilner possesses, a piece like the title track is a showcase for either flamboyance or taste. With Wilner it is the latter; his jazz manners are that of John Lewis or ((Bebo Valdes}}. The best example might be Noel Coward’s “I’ll See You Again,” played with an elegance you’d be surprised to hear over the clamor and din of a jazz club. His diamond-in-the-rough playing is evident on the two Duke Ellington pieces here, “Warm Valley” and “Gypsy Without A Song.”

He also plays “Young At Heart” without a hint of irony, and his composition “Trick Baby” rings order out of classical dissonance. Even his “Blues For The Common Man” flirts with a an elegant grandeur, the same grace that Dave Brubeck possessed.

Without auto-correct to save me, my poor typing skills kept spelling out ‘Loan” instead of Koan. Maybe it was an error, or perhaps my zen nature was telling me Wilner has taken a loan from the piano gods.

Mark Corroto – All About Jazz

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JazzdaGama recognizes the Zen quality of “Koan” by Spike Wilner

mindset2When a musician uses, in his music, ‘chance’ operations in order to free the ego from likes and dislikes, trusting that this use is comparable to sitting cross-legged with a musical-ancestor-teacher and allows the way of Zen to work it is possible that the mind not cut itself off from Mind, but let Mind flow through it. This, it would seem is the ‘koan’ that has wrought the fine music that is played by the pianist Spike Wilner on his 2016 Posi-Tone recording Koan. And in doing just that with the music he is able to let it affect his beautifully empathetic bassist Tyler Mitchell and drummer Anthony Pinciotti. This is an unambiguously beautiful performance. Clearly Wilner has developed an affinity for the piano allowing him to seek out new possibilities, thus encouraging the free spirit in him. This is still a rare thing among pianists (playing today) and we should surely welcome it.

The repertoire that Spike Wilner plays here are a mix of his own compositions, and flamboyant bebop and familiar and exotic blues and swing, as well as contemporary standards. (I did miss Wayne Shorter’s and even a Charles Mingus or two, but that, perhaps might be grist for his grinding on another album as beautiful as this one). Nevertheless this music seems a good fit for Wilner. His agile and rock-solid finger technique means that Duke Ellington’s ‘Warm Valley’ and Tadd Dameron’s ‘Hot House’, as well as a Wilner original (pick any) can thrill as they should while never trampling on the gorgeous deep tone of the magnificently tuned piano. Yet Wilner can also find the poetic eloquence in Ornette Coleman’s ‘Lonely Woman’. The qualities with which he achieves that – an almost casually fluid approach to the rhythmic dislocation of individual lines and an ability to assume ornamentation into each of the aforementioned tunes distinguish his performance style across the range of these pieces.

In his own writing Spike Wilner reveals a strong visual imagination which likes to link these pieces to their imagined operatic doppelgängers leading one to appreciate the ‘koan’ metaphor even more so that he is right to claim this Zen quality for the extraordinary, fractured ‘Blues For The Common Man’. Wilner is also incapable of over-egging things and his unhurried freedom of momentum in his account of the said ‘Koan’ is beguiling in its simplicity as well as mesmerising in its melodic/harmonic complex. Through it all you hear the Renaissance man in the pianist through his immense musicianship that speaks his deep connection with the Ancestors. Spike Wilner has given us much with this performance and much more is expected from him in the future.

Raul da Gama  –  JazzdaGama

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CultureJazz -The Art of Jazz Piano – “Koan” Spike Wilner

mindset2We find with pleasure the New York pianist Spike Wilner four years after “The Tenderness” previous album which borrowed its title (and the jacket picture) to a work of his grandmother, the artist Marie Wilner (born in 1910). Koan with his reference to the Buddhist concept of spiritual awakening and his picture in the Zen spirit, we find it very touching feature of a musician lucid style that remains completely faithful to the soul of jazz by an accomplished master of harmonies and loosely ternary rhythms (I’ll See You Again …), meaning subtle melodic lines, the freedom left to the imagination in a formal setting respectful of teaching elders. Formed in the school of ragtime, stride piano and faithful to swing but fully engaged in his time, Spike Wilner knows how to take the listener on a seemingly light path which gradually drift towards the more daring harmonic development of his own compositions or interpretation he gives of themes borrowed from Duke Ellington (Warm Valley, Gypsy Without a Song), Tadd Dameron (Hot House) or Ornette Coleman (a Lonely Woman flipping …). Totally away from modes of gender (the piano-bass-drums trio in 2000 and his photographs) and not out of phase so far, the pianist and his accomplices discrete surely advancing on a path altogether rather classical but never outdated. The art of jazz piano in all its nobility and sensitivity used by a musician who is also a linchpin of the New York club Smalls.
Jazz, good, beautiful!

Thierry Giard – CultureJazz France

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Spike Wilner’s ‘Koan’ Transcends Limiting Piano Trio

mindset2Man, those guys at Posi-Tone are on a roll! Spike Wilner’s Koan is as engaging a piano trio CD as you’ll hope to hear. I thought I was done with basic piano trios but Wilner is so inventive, his originals so, uh, original, his covers so well-picked and performed, that if you have to hear yet another piano trio, let it be he. Of course, bassist Tyler Mitchell and drummer Anthony Pinciotti are both lynchpins to the over-all ambiance. Impeccable and entertaining, this Koan (an ancient Zen Buddhist enigma wrapped in a riddle) is as enlightening as a koan can be.

Ellingtonia, it seems, will never go out of style: “Warm Valley” and “Gypsy Without A Song” go down smooth. The master’s melodies seem to have had an effect on Wilner’s own style of composition. “Iceberg Slim” starts the party. Not sure how this relates to the novelist of the same name as Slim [1918-1992] was a pimp who went on to become a literary icon of street thuggery, so much so that Ice-T and Ice Cube named themselves after him.

Sir Noel Coward [1899-1973] wrote “I’ll See You Again” in 1929 and it’s been covered by Bryan Ferry, Frank Sinatra and dozens of other singers. Divested of lyrical content, Wilner digs down deep into what was once a waltz to unearth its inherent melodic sweetness fit to swoon over.

Tadd Dameron’s 1945 bebop-happy “Hot House” was originally taken from the harmonic structure of Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” but was bopped up so crazy that older swing fans back in the day just couldn’t swallow its changes. Still, when Bird and Diz got their hands on it, it became a standard. Wilner now joins a long list of interpreters including Chaka Khan, Larry Coryell and James Moody to make the song their own.

Put Koan on at your next party and watch the compliments fly

Mike Greenblatt  –

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Mel Minter’s Musically Speaking blog reviews “Koan” by Spike Wilner

mindset2Pianist Spike Wilner brings a refreshing lack of pretention to his work on the trio recording Koan, with bassist Tyler Mitchell and drummer Anthony Pinciotti. There’s something so easygoing and unassuming in his playing and his compositions that you can’t help but like the man, and the jaunty opener, his original composition “Iceberg Slim,” captures you right at the start. The title track poses thornier questions, which Wilner and his mates answer with a swinging rhythm, quotes from Fats Waller (Wilner stride background peeks out here and there throughout the album), and the pianist’s clean, percussive, rippling right hand. That right hand is the main star of these proceedings, but it’s his left that keeps his “Trick Baby” rolling with its echoes of stride and that shapes his lines in Noel Coward’s “I’ll See You Again.” The selections include a hymnlike rendition of Ellington’s “Warm Valley” and a dancing version of the Duke’s “Gypsy without a Song,” and the trio swings on Tadd Dameron’s finger-breaker “Hot House.” Wilner’s harmonically unsettled “Monkey Mind,” with some very nice counterpoint, explores edgier neighborhoods after a dreamy opening, and his dark, searching, gnarly “Three Ring Circus” is perfectly balanced by the trio’s whimsical take on Johnny Richards’ “Young at Heart.” Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” begins with mystery and moves through compassion and celebration before retiring once again to contemplate the mystery. Wilner’s anthemic “Blues for the Common Man” closes the proceedings with a determined optimism, with each chorus finding a fresh expression of fellow feeling.

Mel Minter – Musically Speaking blog