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David Lyttle: Facing All The Music

Ian Patterson By

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All the tracks on Faces have broad commercial appeal—funk, hip-hop, rap, R&B etc. So does that mean that Faces was conceived as a broadly commercial album? "I wanted an element of that," says Lyttle, "but it wasn't a conscious decision. It was a question of what worked. The whole album comes from a deeper place than trying to create a hit, but it's nice when you can say what you want to say and it still fits a mold where a large audience can at least hear it and decide whether to like it or not."

The music on Faces all works -infectiously so, in fact. Though eight years on from the acoustic jazz of True Story Lyttle's musical identity is now much more multi-faceted: "I didn't want Faces to be too heavily jazz tinged," he acknowledges. "So much jazz doesn't make it onto mainstream radio because it's too long. When you get so immersed in any niche world you can lose sight of the bigger picture. I don't like that exclusive kind of thing -much as I love jazz. At the same time I have a lot of respect for people who have a life-long focus on developing their own personalities as jazz musicians."

Lyttle evidently loves jazz and much of the music he listens to recreationally is jazz. He still gigs straight-ahead jazz when the opportunity arises, as evidenced on his 2013 fourteen-date tour of Northern Ireland in a trio with Tom Harrison and bassist Neil O'Loughlen. Such a string of dates in N. I., particularly for a jazz trio, is almost unheard of these days but Lyttle is a good example of where there's a will there's a way: "I did the same thing with Mark McKnight—I think that was 2009. I had played a lot of the places and had a good relationship with most of the venues."

Still, for fans who know Lyttle exclusively in his jazz drummer robes, Interlude and Faces represent a significant change: "Prior to Interlude I was just known in the jazz world," recognizes Lyttle. "My whole audience, the people who had bought my previous album and came to my gigs and supported my label were all jazz fans. Some people think you've sold out or you can't make it as a jazz musician, rather than thinking 'this guy's trying something different, so what?'"

With Interlude Lyttle admits that he felt the weight of people's expectations of him: "At that point I didn't feel very free in the sense that I was almost a bit scared to put out something different, but I feel much freer now. I feel I can play jazz, or put out an album that's not jazz, or go and write a folk song. 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."

Doing what feels right for Lyttle can mean releasing a classical CD on his record label, as in the case of young Israeli pianist Areil Lanyi, who recorded Schuman, Liszt and Janáček on Romantic Profiles (Lyte Records, 2012), or releasing the latest in new-trad Irish music with Moxie's Planted (Lyte Records, 2014).

There's still plenty of room for jazz—of various hues—on Lyte Records, as Jason Rebello's infectious jazz-fusion/cross-over release Anything But Look (Lyte Records, 2013) and Jean Toussaint's glorious straight-ahead Tate Song (Lyte Records, 2014) both demonstrate.

Jazz still occupies Lyttle personally on the live circuit as well, though as he freely admits, it isn't the be all and end all for him: "I still perform jazz in its purest sense and still love listening to a lot of jazz, but I reached a stage about four of five years ago where I didn't want to do one thing exclusively. Jazz is very immersive. It's like eating the same food every night. Maybe gourmet food, but after a while you feel you're not leading as full a musical life as you can. But that's just me."

Perhaps it's not surprising that Lyttle has opened up to embrace all sorts of music, because in a sense these are his earliest musical roots, dating back to his infancy when he already performed with the family band, The Lyttle Family, alongside his parents and five siblings.

"We used to have a caravan in Rossnaula in Donegal and the summers were spent there," recalls Lyttle. "At the weekends the family used to play in The Manor House bar. It was a great community scene; a massive family, really. I would just watch the music and I think I might have picked up the bohran at one point. I might have been four, maybe younger," he says, laughing.

"Then my Dad made me a set of bongos. I developed and got better and then took up cello at eight as my official instrument but I never really connected with it in the way I did with drums. It was just like a child taking an interest in football if their Dad's a professional footballer and he gets the opportunity to play with professionals every now and then. It was like that, rather than 'you're going to play drums in this band whether you like it or not,'" laughs Lyttle.

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