For guitarist Joyce Cooling, the title of her Heads Up debut, Playing It Cool, is more than just a cute pun on her name -- it captures the essence of her approach to many of the tunes as well. It's no coincidence that fellow Bay Area stringmeister Ray Obiedo is a co-producer, because her generally laid-back approach, peppered with fits and starts of improvisational energy, is much like the tack Obiedo takes on his own Sweet Summer Days album. The midtempo "South of Market," for instance, breaks down midway through for a tag team of guitar and piano solos. Sometimes, she's a little deceptive. Happily, just as she's settling into another very amiable, melodic groove a few minutes into a tune, she'll venture off unexpectedly and show off some deeper chops, intensifying even the most middle-of-the-road ballad and turning light funk into a heavy experience -- but never so far that the listener loses sight of the melody. Her keyboardist partner, Jay Wagner, is prone to such flights of fancy as well, and together their rapport is a musical equivalent to Burns and Allen: easygoing vibe setup, followed by a zinger of a punchline. A grand exception to this standard is the percussive seven-minute jam "Firefly," which roars from the start and brings Cooling and Wagner's Brazilian influences to the forefront. Other tracks like "Savannah" hint at this flavor, but don't take the time to express it fully.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran