On his new CD, pianist Bobby Lyle proves once again that he’s at the top of his game when performing melodic smooth jazz in the style of Joe Sample. Lyle’s longtime fans know, of course, that he’s equally adept with straightahead jazz, as he proved on 2004’s Straight and Smooth. But Lyle’s 15th effort more closely matches his timeless Joyful CD from 2002. As he did on that CD, the pianist offers several cover songs, including Michael McDonald’s “Minute by Minute” and the Emotions’ “Best of My Love.” But most sublime is Lyle’s take on the jazz standard “Poinciana,” a lovely tune you’ll be playing over and over again. Lyle’s “Return of the Genie” is a reference to the title of his first CD almost 30 years ago and to the cover of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” from Joyful.
On original songs like “Passion Drive,” “Hands On” and “Take a Step,” Lyle plays to his strengths. Unlike other keyboardists in the genre, Lyle sticks mostly with the acoustic piano, giving his CDs a cohesive and organic theme. His piano touch sounds sublime on the CD’s closing tune, “Beth,” which Lyle wrote for his girlfriend. Sure, he’ll throw in some horns and a sax solo on songs like the sizzling “Fancy Pants,” but his pure tone on piano is never far from the spotlight.