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David Lyttle & Andreas Varady at Bennigans Jazz Club

Ian Patterson By

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David Lyttle & Andreas Varady
Bennigans Jazz Bar
Derry, N. Ireland
January 14, 2018

There was an air of expectation around the duo gig of David Lyttle and Andreas Varady -two of the finest exponents of their respective instruments in contemporary jazz. Not surprisingly, Bennigans Jazz Club—a wonderfully intimate setting—was packed to capacity. This is a new project from Irish drummer Lyttle and Slovakian guitarist Varady, having first collaborated together on Questions (Lyte Records, 2010), when Varady was still only thirteen. Inevitably, the child-prodigy tag followed Varady as he gigged—and held his own---with the likes of Martin Taylor, George Benson and in Quincy Jones' Global Gumbo, as well as making his major label debut, the EP Come Together (Verve, 2014). But time marches on.

Now twenty years of age and sporting a beard, the wunderkind label that always preceded Varady's name like a title of sorts is outdated, for the Slovakian is simply another young man attempting to make his way as a professional musician—albeit one of remarkable talent. On Lyttle's self-penned ballad "After The Flood" Varady served early notice that there's a lot more to his bag, however, than high speed virtuosity—his delicate arpeggios, graceful harmonic voicings and gently tumbling runs played against Lyttle's deft, though animated brush and stick work -the Waringstown drummer drawing melody from the drum skins. Varady's dazzling technique was to the fore on Miles Davis' "All Blues," his bluesy improvisation riding the waves of Lyttle's African-inspired rhythms—on hands and sticks—with impressively controlled fluidity. Yet even at his most fleet, Varady exuded an air of calm control, and more importantly, an innate sense of musicality where every note counts.

Varady's mid-tempo straight-ahead number "Opportunity" and Lyttle's breezy "Happy Easter" featured extended solos -both musicians making their technically advanced improvisations seem as easy as peeling spuds. The first set closed with a brilliant reading of John Klenner/Sam M. Lewis' oft-covered "Just Friends" from 1931—with the eyes drawn as much to Lyttle's dancing brushwork as the ears were to Varady's melodic invention.

The second set began with a new Varady composition, "Best Friends," the guitarist juggling rhythmic chords and flashing runs with uncommon dexterity as Lyttle stoked the duo's rhythmic fires. Thereafter standards paved the trail; John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice," Ray Noble's "Cherokee" and a fired-up version of Victor Young's "Stella by Starlight" providing the grist to the duo's improvisational mill. The standout interpretation, arguably, was "Cherokee," shorn of the original's swing and the song's latter bebop bustle, and instead invested with the aching lyricism of a most tender ballad. Lyttle is a consummate balladeer—as witnessed on his collaboration with Joe Lovano on "Lullaby of the Lost," from the drummer's MOBO-nominated Faces (Lyte Records, 2015)—and his nuanced working of the kit on this perennial favorite was every bit as compelling as his more animated drumming throughout the evening.

The duo drew a line under a splendid set with an improvised blues that blossomed from ruminative stirrings to gutsy cut and thrust, with guitarist and drummer alternating between lead and comping roles. The crowd, which had listened attentively throughout, rewarded the duo with a standing ovation. Earlier, addressing the crowd, Lyttle had described jazz as a process of constant learning, mentorship and service to the music -"a lifelong journey," as he put it. Hopefully the journey of David Lyttle and Andreas Varady, a formidable duo, will be just that.

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