The thirty-second cello sortie that kicks off Faces
is an arresting opening statement that dashes any preconceptions about what to expect from David Lyttle's third outing as leader. While the acoustic True Story
(Lyte Records, 2007) and Questions
(Lyte Records, 2010)the latter a swinging collaboration with guitar wunderkind Andreas Varady
helped establish Lyttle's credentials as a first-rate jazz drummer, Interlude
(Lyte Records, 2012) revamped the template by adding hip-hop and soul to the mix. Faces
proclaims an even bolder skewing of genres, with New Orleans funk, uber-catchy pop and gospel-tinged soul rubbing shoulders with smoldering jazz improvisation and contemporary urban rhythms and vocals.
In addition to cello and drums, Lyttle also plays keyboards, bass guitar and adds vocals but this is far from a one-man show. Five singers, three rappers and a bevy of woodwind, brass and stringed instruments combine in various ensemble settings, resulting in tunes that are as diverse as they are infectious. The standout guest artist is arguably Joe Lovano
, whose mellifluous tenor solo on "Lullaby of the Lost" is as soulful as anything he's previously recorded; rappers Illspokkin and Homecut share vocal duties either side of Lovano on this gently seductive tune.
Lyttle's dancing Nawlin's snare pattern underpins the brief but breezy "The Second Line"; Talib Kweli raps breathlessly on the less salubrious aspects of the music industry on this short, meaty cut. A bouncing piano motif threads its way through "Houdini," a delightful slice of sophisticated pop featuring the highly original singer-songwriter/pianist Duke Special.
Every tune is undoubtedly radio friendly but highly diverse at that: pianist Jason Rebello
, John Leighton
on organ and Anne Lyttle's vocals on the softly bluesy ballad "Seek" take us to gospel church; Rhea Lyttle and Jean Toussaint
's mellow funk owes more to soul disco; Cleveland Watkiss
's scatting on the swinging title track draws exuberantly from the bebop tradition and flirts with Bobby McFerrin
's idiom at the same time.
Rhea Lyttle and Zimbabwean-born, Drogheda-based rapper Zane form a winning vocal team on the grooving pop tune "Game Boy," with Michael Buckley's sing-song flute improvisation a fleeting bonus. Likewise, singer Natalie Oliveri and rapper Homecut's contrasting vocals make for striking juxtaposition on the equally contemporary-sounding "To Be Free." There' a little of Burt Bacharach's magic about "Perception," sung beautifully by Anne Lyttle, with rich woodwind/brass arrangements of real warmth by Meilana Gillard
"I wish I was free like jazz" sings Homecut on "To Be Free"; Lyttle pursues the sort of musical freedom that enables him to openly embrace all
the music that resonates with him. He hasn't turned his back on jazz, but merely opened himself further to the music encountered on his regular globe-trotting, from Belfast to Brooklyn and from London to Louisiana. Lyttle exhibits the same panache for writing as he exercises with his sticks; with every track a polished gem Faces
is potentially the feel-good cross-over album of the year.
Intro; The Second Line; Houdini; Seek; Detour; Faces; Lullaby for the Lost; Game Boy; To Be Free; Perception.
David Lyttle: drums; percussion; keyboards; cello; bass; lead vocals (2, 8); Kevin Duffy: bass, guitar (9); Duke Special: vocals (3); Anne Lyttle: vocals (4, 10); Rhea Lyttle: vocals (5, 8); Cleveland Watkiss: vocals (6); Natalie Oliveri: vocals (9); Talib Kweli: rap (2); Illspokkin: rap (7); Homecut: rap (7, 9); Zane: rap (8); Jason Rebello: piano (4); John Leighton: organ (4); Tom Harrison: saxophone (2); Jean Toussaint: saxophone (5); Joe Lovano: saxophone (7); Michael Buckley: flute (8); Meilana Gillard: woodwinds, saxophone, arrangements (10); Jan Lyttle: violin (5); Eoin Walsh: guitar (5).