Spike Wilner: Koan

A koan, the CD booklet informs, is “a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.” Having digested that, it makes a reviewer feel almost guilty for attempting to analyze and explain a recording titled after the word. Instead, why not just sit back, let the music sink in and hope that enlightenment follows? That would be very easy to do. Wilner is a contemplative pianist but not a heavy-handed one. He’s impish as often as he is pensive-heck, he starts the album off with a self-penned tribute to the renowned pimp/author Iceberg Slim that is essentially a galloping, romping boogie-woogie. Koan is music that requires little effort on the part of the listener, not because it’s simple-it isn’t-but because it doesn’t labor at being weightier-than-thou.

That’s not to imply Koan is a lark either, and those who do want to ruminate over its depths will find equal reward in it. Bassist Tyler Mitchell and drummer Anthony Pinciotti have dead-serious chops and they know how to use them. On “Monkey Mind,” free-flowing, rhythm-less and cinematically colorful, they’re virtually invisible in their light touch yet somehow right where they need to be in support of the pianist. “Young at Heart,” the Johnny Richards standard, switches tempo often enough to trip up a rhythm section of lesser aptitude, but again these two anticipate and land on target throughout.

Wilner, who is also the proprietor of Smalls Jazz Club and Mezzrow in New York, is a most listenable player. Perhaps his dual role as venue operator informs that style: He wants to entertain as well as impress; he wants to keep you coming back. Chances are good that you will.

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