Electric guitarist Joel Kipnis -- or JK, as the smooth jazz world will know him -- is an amazingly unselfish musician, not only including his keyboardist Dinky Bingham and featured vocalist Robyn Springer on the back cover of his Verve Forecast debut What's the Word, but deferring lead parts and solos to them as well as other bandmembers more often than not throughout the disc. Kipnis will establish a theme, then kick around in the background while Bingham sprouts a frenetic bluesy organ solo, Scott Kreitzer sparks some fancy improvisations on sax, and Jim Hynes eases in on trumpet, all in rapid succession. The tag eaming bears the most fruit on the funkiest cut "In the Pocket," where Bingham bubbles under JK's slick lines while Hynes waits for an open door to chime in a measure or two. While JK isn't always the one who stands out most on each cut, give him credit for aiming for solid ensemble vibes The few full-on instrumentals are a blast. Problems come, however, from the overreliance on Springer's rich vocals. Nothing against her whatsoever, and the numerous songs she fronts are all pleasant, late night-romantic mood pieces. But the band -- showing so much potential on the jams -- has little opportunity to blow on these -- a brief harmony line here, a laid-back and truncated solo there. Most of these are midtempo ballads which, while perfect for radio, hardly allow for cutting loose. While it's a solid intro to some fine new talents, it's hard to figure what Kipnis wanted here -- to establish himself as an R&B-oriented guitarist extraordinaire or to give his friend Springer an outlet. Both are truly gifted; next time, solo albums from each would be the best bet.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran