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David Lyttle: Facing All The Music

Ian Patterson By

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It’s about getting to the stage where you’re not concerned with what people think, but where you’re concerned with doing what feels right —David Lyttle
In times when independent musicians have to function as one-person business enterprises most musicians show more than one face. David Lyttle, drummer par excellence from Waringstown, Northern Ireland, wears more faces than most. Musician, songwriter, record label owner, producer, interviewer and talent scout—Lyttle has built a solid reputation in multiple fields in a relatively short span of time.

Perhaps best known as a jazz drummer in the early years of his professional career, Lyttle has increasingly pushed himself beyond the confines of straight-ahead jazz, immersing himself in more contemporary rhythms and sounds, including rap and hip-hop. Lyttle's aptly titled third album as leader, Faces (Lyte Records, 2015), is his most expansive musical statement to date, reflecting the ever-widening musical world he inhabits.

Alongside local talent such as saxophonist Meilana Gillard and singer-songwriter/pianist Duke Special, Lyttle brings on board English improvising jazz vocalist Cleveland Watkiss, singer Natalie Oliveri and pianist Jason Rebello. From New York there's tenor sax legend Joe Lovano as well as coterie of exciting hip-hop and rap artists. There's a strong family connection too, with Lyttle's mother Anne and his sister Rhea singing on several tracks. Besides Lyttle's home studio in Waringstown, the music was recorded in Dublin, Derry, London and New York. Some of the music was inspired by New Orleans and a little bit of all these places inhabits the highly melodic, groove-based music.

Most of the music, however, was written in Lyttle's studio at home: "It's my label headquarters and my writing, mixing and editing headquarters," explains Lyttle. "It's a nice room with a nice sound but it's good too when you're somewhere different. The key for me is not to be too aware of your surroundings."

The writing process for Faces was a mixture of old school suck-it-and-see and more modern approaches: "The Duke Special song ["Houdini"] we wrote in Belfast. That was very old-fashioned song writing," says Lyttle. "Others were more internet-based. I had ideas I sent over to people. Most of it started at home and was flown around, sometimes literally, and finished in other places."

The appeal of Faces lies in its musical diversity and its sonic continuity, production-wise. Following a couple of straight-ahead jazz albums, the acoustic True Story Lyte Records, 2007), and Questions (Lyte Records, 2010)—his collaboration with then then thirteen-year-old guitar protégé Andreas Varady—Lyttle expanded his musical horizons on Interlude (Lyte Records, 2012), exploring more urbane and contemporary rhythms. By and large, Faces follows a similar blueprint.

"The album could have been any style and more in one genre but I approached it song by song," says Lyttle. "It wasn't until I was a third of the way through it I started to think what the whole album would sound like, what the common thread is. The common thread is me and I think that's enough. The diversity reflects where I'm at. There are elements of all the music I like but most of the songs started with an idea that evolved naturally."

Almost as important to Lyttle as the writing is the overall sound of Faces: "I think the tone of the album is consistent and that comes from just one person producing it, and, importantly, the mixing and mastering. I think had I got other people to do that or to work on individual tracks I don't think it would have worked," says Lyttle, who spent a year getting the recording just right.

Surprisingly, even by Lyttle's eclectic standards, Faces begins with thirty seconds of unaccompanied cello, played by Lyttle himself, who was trained in the instrument in his youth: "I played cello on one of the tracks on Interlude but not since then. A lot of the time you try something and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."

That spirit of adventure characterizes all Lyttle's musical endeavors but the inspiration for the cello intro came from perhaps a surprising quarter: "I got big into Dr. John and his albums all have these really dramatic intros," explains Lyttle. "He doesn't sing on the first track normally. Maybe he's on piano or maybe not. Maybe it's just an atmospheric thing with sounds from the country or the swamp. I really like that idea of setting up an album. It's like watching the opening credits of a film rather than just bang, here's the album. It's setting it up and clearing your mind of what you might expect to begin with and allowing it to kind of develop."

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