Spike Wilner Trio – Odalisque

Spike Wilner Trio – Odalisque (Cellar Live)

There’s nothing conspicuously wrong with the latest album by the Spike Wilner Trio. Pianist Wilner often employs a light, even feathery touch to good advantage in the upper registers, as on a spare and languorous rendition of the Rodgers and Hart ballad “Little Girl Blue.” He contrasts that touch with a somewhat heavier attack, which he uses to mine the lower octaves for relatively dense chords on his own composition “The Upasaka.” That tune offers mild homage to McCoy Tyner via Ahmad Jamal, thanks also to Tyler Mitchell’s propulsive bass line and the insistent drum work of the always-excellent Anthony Pinciotti.

On the title track — another Wilner original, and arguably the standout here — he lilts through a minor-key waltz bearing faint echoes of Edvard Grieg and Camille Saint-Saëns. Then he jumps into a speedy version of the ancient standard “You,” handled with a fair amount of invention and aplomb.

Yet it all makes you yearn for the missing piece, the “something else” that would make this recording truly memorable. Wilner too often treads the middle ground between his obvious influences — Bud Powell on “You,” the aforementioned Jamal, Red Garland and Nat “King” Cole at medium tempos — and his own voice. Given the strength of “Odalisque” and his tune “Hopscotch,” which alternates between rhapsodic sweep and full-throated swing in 3/4 time, that voice appears to be especially comfortable in waltz meter. And it speaks most clearly when he doesn’t overtax his technique, which can usually sustain short bursts of impressive lightning and some solid stride, qualities that illuminate a lovely unaccompanied version of “It’s the Talk of the Town.”

Wilner, who also owns the Manhattan jazz club Smalls, clearly gravitates to earlier models; you won’t hear Corea, Hancock, Jarrett or their successors in his music, and that’s OK. But doing more with his influences would make Odalisque a better album.

— Neil Tesser

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