When Katie Smiles
Fresh-faced students at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music call him Mr. Pensyl. Kim Pensyl is, after all, an assistant professor of jazz studies. But many of us may recall Pensyl from earlier days, especially his three-CD Pensyl Sketches series in the late 1980s and the sublime pop-jazz of 3-Day Weekend in 1991.
Pensyl, a pianist who four times has had albums on Billboard’s Top 10 contemporary jazz charts, has been under the radar for a while. But with When Katie Smiles it’s like we’ve been sent on a time machine to an earlier era when contemporary jazz was all about personal feelings and soul-baring expressions. Pensyl conveys this well in a gentle, new age kind of way through tunes like the title track and “Where’d Love Go.” Joined by bassist Andy Woodson, drummer Reggie Jackson, guitarist Kevin Turner and percussionist Jim Ed Cobbs, Pensyl lays down an impressive collection of positive, acoustic-piano music perfect for cocooning. Pensyl’s more rebellious students may not embrace the overriding mellowness. But that said, Pensyl shows that he can raise the energy level with “Slap Happy,” a Joe Sample-like bop with a rockin’ electric guitar solo.