Review

While never achieving superstar status, this Ohio-based keyboardist/composer has quietly amassed one of instrumental music's most appealing catalogs of work. His efforts in the late 80s with Optimism produced technological marvels which showed just how appealing and artistic a self-contained synthesist could be. Later his best releases on GRP established Pensyl's strengths as a leader of an eclectic group. Whether doing it all with keyboards or playing as part of an ensemble, the one constant has always been a remarkable facility for catchy melodies and sparkling solos. His Shanachie debut finds Pensyl exploring aspects of both vibes, with a mostly joyous, celebratory tone, whether in the studio by himself or jamming with Dave DeWitt (bass), Graham Hawthorne (drums), and the always inventive Dave Mann on saxes. Pensyl goes the jazzy Joe Sample route on winners like the brightly funky "Say You Will" (which has flugelhorn inflections) and the Latin excursion "A Tribute to Ayrton," but he delves much deeper into his musical heart on the acoustic piano tenderness of "Gone Too Soon" and "I Can Hear You Dreaming." Pensyl has always enjoyed going the tropical route, and "I Wish I Knew" is a playful ode to this spirit. And though it comes across as highly synthetic, his take on Toni Braxton's soul hit "Another Sad Love Song" is mighty hard to resist. Once again, Pensyl's on the mark with a highly entertaining collection. ~ Jonathan Widran, Rovi

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