Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lyle Mays Quartet, The Ludwigsburg Concert, 1993

Lyle Mays came to international notice as a key member of Pat Metheny's breakout popular group of the late '70s and onwards. He gave the group important compositions and a keyboard style that complemented Pat's virtuoso contemporaneity. Yet as an artist in his own right he has never quite attained the popularity and recognition that Pat has. We get a chance to hear him at some length as the leader of his own quartet in the double-CD appearance from 1993, on the recently issued The Ludwigsburg Concert (SWR Jazzhaus JAH-453).

It is an all-acoustic gathering with Lyle playing the piano, Marc Johnson on bass, Bob Sheppard on tenor and Mark Walker on drums. The compositions are by Lyle ("Au Lait" co-composed with Metheny) and the band embarks on an evening of the sort of music you might expect, contemporary jazz with some jazz-rock overtones, but then also plenty of room for Lyle's piano improvising and Bob Sheppard's extended tenor-soprano stylings. The rhythm section is very solid and foundational, an important part of how things moved forward that night.

This is the only legal recording of the quartet live and they are captured with fine audio, in fine form. If nothing else, and of course there is more than this, it reminds you of Lyle's considerable artistry as pianist and composer, while also showing you what he can do as a bandleader on his own.

Not surprisingly this is a sometimes slightly more heated version of the ECM-ish jazz he was doing with Pat in the prime years. The immediacy and fire of the live date makes you less aware of the considerable length of the two-CD set and gives you a chance to get thoroughly into what the band was capable of that night. So we get both exploratory spacey-mellow but then some burning, blazing stretches to even things out.

After a few listens I was pretty well hooked on this music. It is very good, very nice to hear, very much indicative of Lyle the contemporary jazz artist. It's even refreshing to hear now, these considerable years later. An unexpected pleasure. Give it some ear-time, most definitely.

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