“Spike and Mike” isn’t a new buddy film, a cable sitcom about two pets on the run, or a box of candy. It’s the colloquial title that pianist Spike Wilner and saxophonist Michael Hashim accept as their own . . . also the title of a song Mike wrote to play in duet with Spike. I learned all of this from the front row of Smalls, that congenial jazz club at 183 West Tenth Street, on April 19, 2012.
I’ve heard and admired both players for seven or eight years now: Spike in solo, duo, and with his own PLANET JAZZ; Mike in bands as superficially different as Kevin Dorn’s The Big 72 (once known as the Traditional Jazz Collective) and the Microscopic Septet. To my ears, they are splendidly united in their playful idiosyncracies; each is a master of his instrument who closes his eyes and steps off into the unknown, trusting himself and listening to his colleague. And they are friends, which comes through. When I was at Smalls the week before this duet and asked Spike if I could come and record his duets with Mike, his instant response was, “Oh, I love that guy!” And if you watch the videos closely, you’ll see Hashim grinning back at Wilner every time the saxophone is out of his mouth. As a duo, they listen intently — making for the most gratifying play, where Earl Bostic and Nat Cole go off to interstellar space.
The program (mostly chosen by Mike) steered away from twice-baked chestnuts, leaning seriously — and beautifully — on Billy Strayhorn. You’ll hear and see his explanatory introductions, so eloquent as to make my explanations superfluous. But I have to point out that this program began with not one, but two romance-influenced questions.
WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?
DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW?):
SPIKE AND MIKE (an improvisation on the changes of TOPSY):
Kurt Weill’s THIS IS NEW (which I had known only from the Lee Wiley recording on RCA Victor):
A Strayhorn duo — first, the very rare LAMENT FOR AN ORCHID (Absinthe) :
and the slightly more familiar JOHNNY COME LATELY:
BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? (sadly, almost as relevant in 2012 as 1932):
LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY:
THE LATE, LATE SHOW (courtesy of Dakota Staton):
Jobim’s very soulful DINDI:
As Mike says, “It’s a waltz. It’s our biggest hit!” What else but LOTUS BLOSSOM:
Romping on RHYTHM changes: STEEPLECHASE:
May your happiness increase.