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David Lyttle: Facing All The Music

Ian Patterson By

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In fact, the soulful "The Second Line," which pays homage to New Orleans, had originally been written with Dr. John in mind. However, as Lyttle explains, the idea failed to come to fruition: "I had sent him a very basic demo two years ago and he said he'd do it. I developed it but in the end it fell through because of his touring and he had his own album coming out."

Lyttle then sent the song to Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli, one half of rap duo Black Star: "He loved it," says Lyttle. "I think it was a better call anyway. I think it's got more energy and that's his thing. His delivery is very strong." So too, is Lyttle's drumming: "It just started out with a New Orleans snare pattern. The whole song was originally like that and then it became an old school, retro funk kind of thing."

Lyrically, the song is a commentary on issues within the music industry: "Talib is very outspoken about corruption, and all sorts of social issues, especially in the black community," says Lyttle. "On this song he dealt more with the hip-hop world and falseness in the music industry."

Lyttle has toured extensively throughout the United States over the past decade but he only came to New Orleans fairly recently: "I knew the history and the culture but I only went for the first time two years ago. For some reason it was one of the last places in the States that I went to. I went back again last year."

The Big Easy immediately worked its charms on Lyttle: "I love it," he enthuses. "Besides the music, just the feeling in the city walking around the streets, the little dive bars everywhere. It's an amazing place. One of my favorite films is Live and Let Die (1973) so maybe it's all coming from that," he says laughing.

Lyttle is reluctant to opine on the health of traditional jazz in New Orleans: "I haven't been there enough but I've talked to musicians from there who are quite prominent on the scene and their take is that the music is not really as alive as it should be in New Orleans. There are a lot of touristy things. It's good music but it's touristy and a bit overpriced."

As for modern jazz, it proved a little elusive during Lyttle's visits to the city: "The contemporary scene? I don't know. I didn't get to see that. You'd need to live there," Lyttle admits. "Whenever you go to New York jazz is so accessible. You can go and hear anything any night—what contemporary jazz is on tonight, what free-jazz is on in Brooklyn tonight, what's going on uptown on the straight-ahead scene. It's all there and there's so much but I didn't get that vibe so much in New Orleans."

Whereas most of the tracks interpreted by the rappers on Faces were recorded remotely, Lyttle traveled to New York for the studio session with Joe Lovano that produced "Lullaby for the Lost," which also features New York rapper IllSpokinn and UK rapper Homecut. The track was recorded in the legendary Avatar studios: "It's one of the last big studios," says Lyttle, "like the Abbey Road of New York."

Lyttle had approached Lovano to see if he'd be interested in hearing some of his music. When Lovano replied in the affirmative Lyttle didn't waste any time: "At that point I thought of "Lullaby for the Lost" because it has quite a complex chord progression and shifts a lot so you want a soloist who'll be able to work well with that. I didn't want a funk solo; I wanted something a bit more sensitive because of the subject of the song and Joe [Lovano] was the first one I thought of. I hope the rappers won't mind me saying, but the song was set up for him."

It was a bit of a coup for Lyttle to secure the services of one of jazz's most iconic contemporary figures: "I was nervous when I first walked into the studio," admits Lyttle, "obviously sitting in the studio with Joe Lovano and it's my session and he's asking me what to do..." he recalls, laughing. "But the vibe was easy. He's just a guy who loves playing music; he's given his life to it and created some amazing albums. There are people I've worked who would make you feel nervous and make you feel like you're just a kid. That's just issues they have with themselves. It was nice to hang out with Joe."

If Lyttle was ever in speechless awe of such famous players it's no longer the case: "I get more excited than nervous now," he says. "I think it's just about respect. You're aware of what they've done and who they are but you treat them like any other musician—with respect."

Though short, the solo Lovano plays on "Lullaby for the Lost" is one of the most soulful he's ever committed to record. No wonder the track has been getting heavy air-time on the UK's leading radio station dedicated to jazz, Jazz FM. To Lyttle's surprise and obvious satisfaction "Lullaby of the Lost" has also been well received on pop radio stations in Ireland.

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