Kevin Hays is likely still undiscovered by the general jazz populace as an acoustic pianist whose knowledge of the modern tradition is also informed by his generation, who listened to pop music, as indicated by the title track penned by Carole King. With the often expansive drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Doug Weiss, Hays musses up the pop tunes to a certain extent, re-voicing them at times, playing only King's song fairly straight. He really stretches the well-worn themes as the program moves along, with a admirable wit and fancy free looseness. While not at all arresting or startling, his ideas could never be mistaken for Keith Jarrett in Zen fashion nor Chick Corea's impish style. But the value these songs retain are held close to the heart in respective tones and even reverent halos. Paul McCartney's "Fool on the Hill" is completely reworked to the point of being unrecognizable, a good thing if you take into account how he extrapolates this simple, dour song into a much more complex exercise in melodic invention. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on the other hand is deconstructed and succinct, but somnambulant, as Weiss takes charge of the main melody apart from what Hays offers harmonically. His version of Thelonious Monk's "Think Of One" jabs and stabs at the melody in large chunks with space and staggered phrases, a most delightful and brilliant extension of this already complex piece. Hays does Bob Dorough's "Nothing Like You" as lyrical as the original, but adds to it a traipsing, lilting modification, treats "Sweet & Lovely" as if it is encased in a film noir labyrinthine tomb, completely contradicting the title until a brighter end of the tunnel segment, and goes wacky during an extremely interesting version of Charlie Parker's "Cheryl" with massively induced off-minor implants, a truly extraordinary interpretation of this bop classic. Hays utilizes some flair for the dramatic, but is primarily a tinkerer, employing playful intellect and a sense of freshness on the majority of this material. It's an album that deserves a second or third listen to glean all of the music's true colors.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos