Bobby Lyle has covered a lot of ground in his career. The keyboard/pianist's versatility has surfaced through his efforts as music director for artists like Bette Midler, Al Jarreau and Anita Bakerand jamming, recording or touring with such giants as Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, the Ronnie Laws Band and George Benson. A little bit of everything from Lyle's experience is present on Hands On, a combination of funk, R&B and smooth jazz.
Overall, the album is a bit formulaic. The twelve tracks have less than a one-minute variance. From the 3:42 cover of the Emotions' "Best of My Love to the 4:37 take on the classic "Poinciana, every song fits neatly into the restraints demanded of commercial radio. In addition, Lyle includes some degree of programming on all but the last four tracks, although he includes other musiciansincluding bassists and a drummeron most of the songs. It seems to be a requirement among today's instrumentalists.
Hands On opens with the playful "Passion Drive, an easy-going groove that features Dave Caseras on saxophone and Todd Parsnow on guitar. The title song has a strong groove, with Martin Walters providing a funky bass line and Joe Vincelli adding the alto sax lead. Lyle's work on the keys makes this a winner, despite the artificial-sounding drum program. He does a better job of simulating drums on the original ballad "Lost In Our Love, which features co-writer Peabo Bryson on lead vocal. This beautiful song may have the best chance at getting widespread airplay, though the fact that Lyle is present may get lost behind Bryson's easily distinguishable voice.
Lovers of traditional jazz may appreciate Lyle's presentation of "Poinciana. With John Adams on bass, Jorge Ginorio on percussion and Parsnow on guitar, Lyle treats listeners to an entree of piano elegance. It's relaxing but not sleep-inducing. Lyle also demonstrates some excellent fingering on a nearly faithful cover of the Doobie Brothers' "Minute By Minute. And "El Paquito, where Lyle is accompanied only by Walters and guitarist Brennen Nase, is an excellent Latin piece.
All but three of the tracks on Hands On are originals, giving the project an air of freshness, in spite of its formulaic elements. While the format-friendly time restraints and programming may turn off hard-core jazz fans, it's still a good album and should be played all the way through at least once. The textbook smooth jazz factors are there, but thanks to Lyle's songwriting and keyboard skills, they don't dominate. Instead of being boring, the music is a mix of charming, laid-back, romantic and danceable grooves.
Track Listing: Passion Drive; Best of My Love; Hands On; Lost In Our Love; Fancy Pants; Poinciana; Minute by
Minute; True Spirit; El Paquito; Take a Step; Return of the Genie; Beth.
Personnel: Bobby Lyle: keyboards, programming; Dave Caseras, Wayne DeLano: saxophone; Todd
Parsnow, John Calderon: guitar; Larry Kimpel, Martin Walters, Keith Vivens, John Adams: bass;
Larry Spencer: trumpet; Keith Adkins: trombone; Keith Banks: drums; Dailyn Valdez, Melanie
Covington, Derrick McCampbell: vocals; Joe Vincelli: alto sax; Peabo Bryson: vocals (4);
Brennen Nase: guitar solo (5); Jorge Ginorio: percussion.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.