The romantic title, soft focus, glass heart filled cover and Valentine’s week release of Rob Mullins’ latest album 2 of Hearts: Music for Lovers II might lead even longtime fans of the adventurous, constantly inventive veteran keyboardist to think he’s going all sweet, mushy and romantic.
In a certain sense, that’s true, as he conceived it as a sequel of sorts to his still hot-selling 1993 album Music for Lovers – and like that first collection, 2 of Hearts crafts a musical narrative of a love affair from starting out as strangers to developing a beautiful relationship. Yet from the lively mid-tempo, old school pop-funk opener “City Nights” through the wild, spacey-synthy, improvisational piano pounding tribute to the late great George “Duke,” the multi-faceted 12 track collection is ultra-melodic throughout but is more jammin’ and deeply, rhythmically soulful than soft and sappy.
As we listen to the beat happy hipster jams “At The Club” and “The Chase” and sensual seductions like “Slinky” (which delightfully pairs Mullins’ dreamy synth and piano with Jimmy Roberts’ smoky sax) and the scratch and sultry female vocal filled “Dancefloor,” we slowly realize that Mullins’ sense of romance is not cards, chocolate and candlelight but steppin’ out on the town, grooving, and starting a slow dance that ends in a night of spirited seduction.
Even the title track “2 of Hearts,” which showcases Mullins’ trademark blend of retro keys and lush piano, uses a sexy, easy flowing sultriness to convey a sense of sweet optimism for what may come February 15. Mullins launched his career in the pre smooth jazz format era of true contemporary jazz, where pop was an influence but innovation, true jazz improvisation and sonic adventure was a given.
Over 30 years later, to our great fortune, he hasn’t subsumed his enormous gifts to sound more “mainstream smoothie” in a contrived effort to get radio play. This may be an album for lovers, but as a modern equivalent of classic contemporary jazz – the kind groundbreaking labels like GRP made back in the day - it’s also one that MUSIC lovers can dig as much as couples. So, yeah, give it as a gift to your sweetheart. But get one for yourself so you can groove along when you’re by yourself.
Listen to 2 of Hearts here: https://open.spotify.com/album/4Fd6R22eC5jNWii5y2itov