Pianist Kevin Hays wears his heart on his sleeve, or in this case his music as he demonstrates on his new album, You’ve Got A Friend (Jazz Eyes). He, along with Bill Stewart (drums) and Doug Weiss demonstrate how you can combine jazz and pop to create something that is neither too weak for the jazz elite or too soft to where it would go into smooth jazz rotation. Although considering how much airplay smooth jazz gets, this may fit along very well, but it depends on what you want and demand from the music.
I would say that Hays closesly resembles the vibe and moods of Ramsey Lewis, who has always been a fantastic interpreter of other people’s music, be it from his cherished days on Chess to the awesome albums he did on Columbia in the 70′s. Hays isn’t just a play-by-numbers guy either, he arranges and when he plays he catches a groove and allows himself to move within until he gets back into the theme of the song. His eight minute rendition of Carole King‘s “You’ve Got A Friend” sounds neither like her or the hit version recorded by James Taylor, this is one of those songs where when it’s over, you want to stand in front of your stereo and just clap. Do not do this when you are driving, just pull over to the side, stop, get out of your car, and just give a random standing ovation that no one on the highway will understand. But you will, heh heh.
His playing is something you’ll want to hear, because as you hear him play you know he has knowledge of the roots of not only what he’s playing, but how he’s playing. Then you have the rhythm section of Weiss and Stewart, who know how to compliment the band leader in this situation, and each other. Other great songs on here include covers of The Beatles‘ “(The) Fool On The Hill”, Simon & Garfunkel‘s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, and Charlie Parker‘s “Cheryl”. For someone as moving as Hays, he makes each of these eight covers his, a true testament to his playing, and I am sure his own compositions are just as good.
The recording itself was engineered by Michael Brorby and mastered by Katsuhiko Naito, so jazzophiles will love the depth of Weiss’ bass notes plucked one by one in “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or the gentle drum strokes in Monk‘s “Think Of One”, but it’s just a great sounding album all around, from all aspects. Buy this immediately.