Rob Mullins

Joyful Noyz

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Long one of smooth jazz's most underrated pianists, Rob Mullins has quietly worked up a catalog of indie releases with tunes long on melody and groove innovations, rivaling most of the classics of David Benoit. Launching his own label with a similarly likeable collection that lives up to its title, Mullins does exactly what he's always done best -- mix things up between powerful ballads, jumpy funk tunes, and anywhere possible, colorful and aggressive jazz improvisations. One of the reasons Mullins may still not be a household name in the genre is his diversity. Joyful Noyz doesn't go quite as crazy in this direction as his last disc, Dance for the New World, but there's still more than enough genre busting to go around. Any other smooth jazzer naming a tune "Summer Song" would go predictable and mellow; Mullins joins with featured saxman Greg Vail for a powerful romp that is part soul, part Latin, and even features an eye-popping solo that smacks of boogie-woogie. "Newport Attitude" is the obvious radio single, a fiery bit of sax-driven passion that could be a Rippingtons' cut if not for the generous acoustic solo Mullins rewards us with. The keyboardist definitely has more fun bouncing off the walls -- as he does on the brisk samba "The Barrio," featuring the lead melody on Fender Rhodes -- but "So in Love with You" shows he's a romantic at heart. Another standout is "She's Too Cool," another light funk/jazz improv attitude piece featuring Morris O'Connor's crisp electric guitar.