When 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.
Track List: Iceberg Slim; Koan; Warm Valley; I’ll See You Again; Hot House; Monkey Mind; Gypsy Without A Song; Trick Baby; Three Ring Circus; Young At Heart; Lonely Woman; Blues For The Common Man.
Personnel: Spike Wilner: piano; Tyler Mitchell: bass; Anthony Pinciotti.
Release date: June 2016
Running time: 1:00:52