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David Lyttle: Facing All The Music

Ian Patterson By

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"There was a lot of folk music," recalls Lyttle of the family band. "Folk music in the broadest sense, whether it was Irish, Scottish, American bluegrass or whatever. My parents also introduced me to a lot of really good Irish songs, as well as The Beatles. A lot of Irish music is very soulful and heartfelt. Very honest music. I think the Beatles is very honest music."

There are important contributions from two local musicians on Faces. Singer/songwriter Duke Special co-wrote the uber-catchy "Houdini" with Lyttle. The two first collaborated together on a dance track when Lyttle was Artist in Residence for Beat Carnival, a charitable organization that promotes carnival arts. The two quickly struck up a friendship.

"We're into a lot of the same stuff," says Lyttle. "He's an amazing pianist. He's into early blues and has a lot of early jazz stuff in his playing. He brings a stride influence into what's pop music really. He writes really deep heartfelt songs, really powerful pop songs. The big thing is his voice."

Another musician who graces Faces is American-born, Belfast-based saxophonist Meilana Gillard, a stalwart of the local jazz scene: "She's a very honest person and is very honest about what she puts out, what goes through her saxophone and through her hands when she writes a tune," says Lyttle. "She's constantly moving forward with her art and developing her voice as a jazz saxophonist."

Gillard plays on "Perception" and Lyttle explains the genesis of the song: "At the time I was listening to a lot of sixties music like Burt Bacharach, with those beautiful, big arrangements.. There's a lot of movement and a lot of space in that music. It's just so powerful. When you think what was in the mainstream back in the 1960s it's pretty amazing. I wanted to get an element of that and try to be more contemporary with it. I knew Melaina played a lot of woodwinds so I gave her free rein and what she did with it was amazing. "

"Perception" also features Lyttle's mother Anne on vocals. Despite Lyttle's early induction into the family band this was the first time mother and son had co-penned a song. Anne Lyttle also brings a touch of gospel-blues to "Seek." The family connection extends to Sister Rhea, who sings on "Detour"—a slow funk number that also features Jean Toussaint—and on the catchy "Gameboy," which features Zane, an up-and-coming hip-hop artist originally from Zimbabwe but raised in Drogheda: "A lot of hip-hop vocalists can be really in your face," says Lyttle," but Zane's approach is really chilled and soulful."

The one track on Faces that Lyttle doesn't drum on is the title track, a vehicle for jazz singer Cleveland Watkiss: "I've known Cleveland for a while and done a few gigs with him," says Lyttle. "I didn't want him just to sing a song; I wanted to showcase his improvisation, which he's so good at. He improvises on a really high level. He also does amazing things with a loop station live on stage, layering his voice, but I didn't want to take that approach because that's more of a live thing. We actually recorded it in Derry."

The year ahead is looking like a busy one for Lyttle. There are of course festival appearances and gigs to promote Faces, with the possibility of a tour to Japan. With the growth of his label and his international profile to boot, the media is courting Lyttle more than ever before: "I had to work hard to get media exposure for Interlude but for Faces the media feedback has been fast, which means I'll not be sitting in the office so much. The record label has grown I have an intern and an agent now. I love being part of the process but it'll be nice to focus more on the creative side."

Lyttle still harbors ambitions to record the Barinthus Suite, an epic collaboration with bassist Eddie Lee commissioned by the Hawk's Well Theatre in Sligo. The title is named after the Celtic god of the sea and the music inspired by Sligo's megalithic landscape. The Barinthus Suite premiered at the Sligo Jazz Project 2013, with an all-star cast of musicians from the jazz and folk worlds, including Kenny Werner, and earned a standing ovation.

"Eddie and I have talked about it and I think we will record it" affirms Lyttle. "It was something we really enjoyed doing and I'm really proud of it. The nature of that kind of thing is that you have limited time to rehearse. It went well in the Hawk's Well but the next time would be better."

Inevitably, Lyttle plays more gigs outside Ireland than at home, but that's got more to do with his ambition to explore than it has to do with the relatively limited opportunities on such a small island: "You can't just stick in one place," says Lyttle. "You can't really have a career that way and I wouldn't want to anyway. I love Ireland, I still live here but you've got to be out and about and experiencing other places and responding to other music."




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