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A Reason to Smile

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Album Review

On his fourth release as a leader, Chicago-based pianist Rob Ryndak continues to explore an exciting mix of pop, soul, Brazilian, and other world influences in an ongoing celebration of life and rebirth in the years after he lost his first wife, Barbara, to breast cancer. The first three tracks perfectly summarize the great diversity and wide range of dynamics at work here. Led by Joe Saia's trumpet, Ryndak's cabasa, and Greg Fishman's sensuous tenor sax, the title track is a cool, laid-back, and jazzy bossa-lite jaunt. The exotic rhythms get deeper on the densely percussive, minor chord-driven "Lea's Joy," a hypnotic piece patterned on Ghana's akom music and highlighted by Ryndak's steady piano lines and Saia's bright flügelhorn solo. "Jadey" is the name of Ryndak's second wife, and it's clear from the shuffling funk and vibrant bass groove, Saia's trumpet, Steve Wunder's punchy sax, and Carter Luke's simmering Hammond B-3 that the marriage isn't perfect but it's still a source of great joy and excitement. The fun part of Ryndak's music is that it's hard to categorize from track to track — there are the cha-cha rhythms of "The Gift of Courage," the dark strutting jazz-blues of "Blues for Emily," and the tasty Latin pop feelings of "Clare's Arrival," driven by Fishman's beautiful flute melody. Ryndak holds everything together with dynamic piano voicings that are sometimes restrained and supportive behind other instruments, and sometimes right out front. Through all the ups and downs in his life and career, it's clear that he knows the value of ensembles and letting his fellow musicians shine. That unselfish approach is A Reason to Smile as well.

A Reason to Smile, Rob Ryndak
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