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Lyte Records: Dancing To Different Beats


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It has to be soulful, in the sense of being heartfelt. It has to have a lot of depth to it
—David Lyttle
Since its inception in 2007, Lyte Records has earned a reputation as one of the very best labels in Ireland/Northern Ireland for independent jazz artists and creative musicians of various stripes. What started out as a very small, personal concern for Lyte Records founder David Lyttle has grown into something much bigger; international recognition came Lyte Records' way for a jazz/hip-hop crossover album and the attention of producer Quincy Jones has changed the life of one young musician on the label in particular. "It's the best of both worlds," says Lyttle. "I get a real buzz out of the music and I enjoy the business side a lot too."

Lyttle is one of the top jazz drummers/composers in Ireland and is highly respected in the UK and America too, having performed with saxophonists Dave Liebman, Jean Toussaint and Greg Osby. His touring schedule is usually pretty hectic so it's a wonder he ever found time to set up a record label in the first place, though it was basically a logical step: "Generally it's the same kind of story with most musicians who set up a label," says Lyttle, "they're not at the stage where they can get a big record deal and they don't think a smaller deal is going to be very useful." Thus, Lyte Records came into being when Lyttle wanted to release his debut recording, True Story (Lyte Records, 2007).

With his first record Lyttle chose to fly under the radar: "The first record didn't have distribution at that point and I didn't really want it either," he explains. "I just didn't think I was ready. I was happy with the album but at the same time I didn't want to make a big deal out of it." When Lyttle did try to get distribution for his record he had to make his first executive decision: "I had two offers. One of the companies was very good for jazz. It had a label, it had publishing, PR, everything. They were interested but only if it was jazz. They suggested I set up a label for other stuff."

Other stuff for Lyttle can mean quite a diverse range of music, from blues and classical to hip-hop. The idea of being hemmed in to just one genre of music—or even one genre of jazz—simply didn't appeal: "It kind of went against my whole idea of what I want, which is basically to have a structure and a brand for good, honest music. It has to be soulful, in the sense of being heartfelt. It has to have a lot of depth to it."

One young musician in the Lyte Record stable with a lot of soul and depth is Limerick-based Slovakian guitarist Andreas Varady, a virtuoso reared in the gypsy jazz tradition of guitarist Django Reinhardt: "I first met Andreas Varady in 2009 I believe. He'd sent me a message on YouTube just saying he'd love to play with me." At the time Varady was eleven years old. "I thought, oh, it's just some kid," recalls Lyttle. "You do get a lot of messages like that from young artists because you have a label but I checked out the video and he was playing [guitarist] George Benson style. He needed a bit of refining but he was pretty impressive."

Lyttle and Varady started playing together and Lyttle set up projects with other musicians. It wasn't long before other labels started showing an interest in signing the young virtuoso. Lyttle talked with Varady's parents and together they came to the conclusion that, like Lyttle himself a few years earlier, a low-key start would be in Varady's best interests: "We thought Andreas wasn't really ready to release a big album and it's easy for someone as young as that to get exploited, so we decided to release an album ourselves under Lyte records."

That album, Questions (Lyte Records, 2010) was a co-led project between Varady, who had just turned 13, and Lyttle, and it received very positive reviews internationally: "That really brought Andreas to an international audience," says Lyttle. It certainly did. Within a year Varady was touring as a duo with guitarist Martin Taylor and in 2013 Quincy Jones took the teenage prodigy under his wing on a tour of Europe and Asia.

Questions was the second release on Lyte records, but three years on the catalog has reached a total of twenty releases: "It's not bad for an independent label over three or four years," admits Lyttle. "I didn't really think of it as a label until the fourth or fifth album when there was a little bit of a catalog. There wasn't even a website until the fourth album. Before that it was just to release my own music, help out a friend, that sort of thing. But once you've done a few things people start asking you and reaching out and sending you stuff."

The label has taken all kinds of twists and turns that Lyttle could hardly have envisaged at the outset of the adventure and in 2012 released its first classical recording, by teenage Israeli pianist Ariel Lanyi, Romantic Profiles (Lyte Records, 2012). Lyttle had come across the then thirteen-year old Lanyi at the Sligo Jazz Project where both he and Varady were playing in a Young Jazz Project. Lyttle was impressed with the teenager's jazz chops but classical piano was really Lanyi's background and Lyttle decided to release his recitals of Schuman, Liszt, Brahms and Janacek: "He didn't want his first release to be a very aggressive release and a big label will do that with a young artist," says Lyttle. "Ariel sees himself more as a classical pianist and I saw the release as a leg up for him. It might help him get a deal with a major label if that's what he wants."

The majority of the releases on Lyte Records are by jazz artists. Some of Ireland/Northern Ireland's best known jazz musicians such as saxophonist Gay McIntyre, trumpeter Linley Hamilton and guitarists John Moriarty and Nigel Mooney are on Lyttle's label. So, is Lyte Records an Irish label? "No, not really," relies Lyttle. "Some people might see it like that but I don't want to limit the label's reach. Good music is good music anywhere."

Other significant artists on Lyte Records include pianist Jason Rebello and saxophonist Jean Toussaint, both of whom have collaborated with Lyttle before. "Jason [Rebello] was on Interlude and on a lot the gigs touring that album. He was six years with Sting and six years with Jeff Beck but now he's getting back to his own career and doing his own thing, which is great. He liked the relaxed set-up of the label." Rebellos' first major release as leader in nearly fifteen years, Anything But Look (Lyte Records, 2013), is a triumphant return to the sort of form that made his name in the first place. Its blend of soul, funk, jazz and fusion in many ways epitomizes the open-minded ethos of Lyte Records.

Toussaint and Lyttle go back together a little further: "I've probably known Jean six years or something. He's one of my heroes and he's been like a mentor to me. Jean has a very unique style, and always has had, even when he was with [drummer] Art Blakey's The Jazz Messengers in the 1980s."

Trying to run a record label in a country whose population north and south totals about 7 million people has its challenges, and to define the label as a purely jazz label would be commercially as well as artistically restrictive: "You've got to think of the audience," says Lyttle. "The people who are buying your music generally don't care about labels. If they leave you because you try something a bit different on the next album then they're not really your audience."

The blueprint has worked so far and Lyttle has no intention of narrowing Lyte Records' musical parameters: "There's a rock album on there and there's going to be a few more hip-hop things coming up and fairly full-on contemporary jazz, as well as soul and R&B."

Lyttle points out that Lyte Record releases are recorded "all over the place" and significantly for the artists Lyttle leaves the creative side of the music entirely in their hands. "Mostly I only get involved in the final stages of releasing the music, the PR and the distribution. Essentially the only thing the label doesn't do is the recording, though we have done that before. A jazz album doesn't cost that much to do so it's better if the musicians can fund it; the label obviously takes less money and it's better for everyone because there's no pressure on it to sell, which is good because it's not really about that. You don't set up a jazz record label to get rich."

Despite the positive reception Lyte Record's releases have received thus far, Lyttle is acutely aware of the challenges he faces: "It's difficult because the market is limited here, the press is limited and the audience is limited too. There's no point releasing everybody's album if the radio won't play it and the press won't review it. It's so important that the press latch on to it for the public to buy it, because ultimately it's the label's job to sell it and I don't want to lose sight of that side of it."

So far, Lyttle has proved to be highly astute in balancing artistic and commercial concerns. His ability to foster completely unknown artists and yet to also attract artists of international renown makes Lyte Records stand out from the crowd. It's been a fascinating, unpredictable journey thus far, but undoubtedly the most interesting times for Lyte Records lie ahead.

Andreas Varday/David Lyttle

Billed as a co-led recording, drummer and Lyte Records founder David Lyttle introduces the extraordinary guitarist Andreas Varady to the world on a conventional collection of standards and four original compositions. Thirteen-year old Hungarian gypsy guitarist Varady is the real star of the show, dazzling not only with his tremendous technical ability but with a touch and an emotive depth to his playing that belies his age. Varady's father Bandi Varady on rhythm guitar and bassist Michael Janisch bring considerable rhythmic oomph to the mix.

Varady wears his influences on his sleeve; guitarists George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and Django Reinhardt have all left their mark on the young rising star. Varady's breezy "A Day in New York" and the bop-flavored "Blues For Edward" prove that he can also pen a decent tune. Lyttle's compositions run from the ska-influenced "True Story"—with Varady conjuring the wily spirit of the great Jamaican jazz guitarist Ernest Ranglin—to the boppish "Swing Thing." Lyttle displays his own inventive chops on these two tracks, but on the whole he's content to swing the quartet.

"Donna Lee" is played out between Varady and Janisch who trade licks back and forth with great fluidity. "Festival 48"—Varady's tribute to Reinhardt—sees Varady execute stunningly rapid lines on acoustic guitar that guitarist and Reinhardt acolyte Bireli Lagrene would be proud of. Jazz standards "Giant Steps" and "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" are taken at a leisurely pace that allows Varady's emotional nuance to shine through. Varady's sparkling solo interpretation of "The Shadow of Your Smile" shows just why guitar legend Martin Taylor has invited the young phenomenon to tour as a duo.

Lyttle and Varady's main achievement lies in refashioning overly familiar material so that it shines anew. Varady may steal most of the thunder but at the end of the day this is assuredly a rousing quartet production.

Gay McIntyre
The Music Within Me

Veteran alto saxophonist/clarinetist Gay McIntyre brings all his years of experience to this charming straight ahead session, and at 79 years of age at the time of recording, that's a lot of laps around the track. In a six-decade career, McIntyre has played with the British trad jazz giants Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball and Irish jazz guitar legend Louis Stewart. Surrounded by some of Ireland's finest jazz musicians—trumpeter Linley Hamilton, pianist Johnny Taylor, bassist David Redmond and drummer Dominic Mullan—this set represents the reeds player's debut recording as leader.

McIntyre doesn't set out to reinvent the wheel on these seven timeless standards but there's much to admire in the passionate, nuanced soloing and collective brio. The quintet lays out its store on "Days of Wine and Rose," with the leader, Hamilton and Taylor all impressing. McIntyre switches to clarinet on a sunny version of "Darn That Dream," dovetailing beautifully with Hamilton. A fine balladeer, McIntyre's soulful playing on "My Foolish Heart," "Body and Soul" and "My Romance" provide album highlights.

There's a touch of samba about the Johnny Mandel/Paul Francis Webster tune "The Shadow of Your Smile whereas the interpretation of "Some Day My Prince Will Come" is reminiscent of trumpeter Miles Davis 1961 version. A large part of the success of this session is due to the chemistry of Hamilton's quartet, but that's taking nothing away from McIntyre, who leaves an indelible stamp on the Irish jazz scene with his wonderful playing on some of his favorite tunes.

John Leighton
Dramatic Life

Pianist/composer John Leighton's debut above all showcases his notable talents as a composer and one of the many strengths of Dramatic Life is the variety in the music, which draws from jazz, soul, the singer-songwriter tradition and the poetry of 19th century English poet John Keats. Leighton's pianistic skills take a back seat for most of the session, instead allowing vocalist Anna Stott to bask in the spotlight. Stott is the focal point of the music and impresses with her subtly dynamic range and soulful delivery.

On gently folkloric songs like "Married the Messenger" and the lilting, Celtic-tinged "The Dress," Stott's delivery evokes latter-day Joni Mitchell. She takes a soulful, Sade-like approach on "Ameltie" and brings lyrical, spoken-word gravitas to Leighton's arrangement of the Keats poem "A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever." Drummer David Lyttle bassist Michael Janisch and Leighton's elastic rhythms drive up-beat tracks like "Precious Life" and "Whin Bush." The latter features a fine solo from guitarist Mark McKnight, though for the most part his presence is subdued. Multi-reeds player Michael Buckley enjoys greater protagonism, and whether on tenor or alto saxophone or flute he makes a lasting impression.

At around 35 minutes this is a rather short offering by today's standards. A few more solos by Leighton and McKnight wouldn't have gone amiss but this is a minor quibble, especially considering that Leighton's focus is clearly on the compositions rather than the individuals. An impressive debut nonetheless.

Lloyd Ryan Big Band
Drivin' Force

A well-known British session musician since the 1960s, drummer and big band leader Lloyd Ryan can count former Genesis drummer Phil Collins among his pupils. Surprisingly, Drivin' Force marks his big band recording debut—and the collection of up-tempo jazz standards and pop tunes brings together some of the UK's finest session players on what was conceived as a one-off project.

Most of the tracks were recorded in one take—after minimal rehearsal—and there was no overdubbing on these 12 selections. Pop classics like Belfast singer Van Morrison's "Moondance" and Lennon and McCartney's "Norwegian Wood" rub shoulders with standards such as Billy Taylor's "I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel To Be Free," a thumping version of keyboardist Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and popular tunes such as Neil Hefti's "Cute."

Highlights include Sammy Nestico's "Funtime," Hefti's "Cute," which stands up well to the Count Basie Orchestra version from 1956, Sammy Nestico's short and punchy "Ya Gotta Try" and Bill Potts "Big Swing Face." The arrangements are tight and the playing is uniformly strong. Unfortunately, the soloists are not named for each track, which seems like an oversight. Recommended for fans of old-style, big band swing.

David Lyttle

Drummer David Lyttle's second album as leader on his own label is a thoroughly urbane affair, mixing elements of jazz, neo-soul, hip-hop and rap in an upbeat concoction whose easy grooves have the feel of a soundtrack for a carefree summer. It's something of a family affair, with Lyttle's mother Anne providing vocals on the miniature "Seek" and sister Rhea on the delightful neo-soul of "I Don't Mind" and "Questions," the latter of which features saxophonist Michael Buckley and trumpeter Linley Hamilton in a lovely horn arrangement.

There's heavyweight support from legendary session-bassist Pino Palladino and rapper/saxophonist Soweto Kinch on the catchy soul-rap number "Uncertain Steps." Pianist Jason Rebello guests on "Optimistic," another radio-friendly slice of new soul/rap featuring Homecut. In addition to writing all the music and drumming, Lyttle doubles on keyboards and backing vocals on the sultry soul number "Angel" and handles piano, organ and cello—on which he's classically trained—on "Seek," not to mention bass guitar on the funky title track.

There's little in the way of soloing on this groove-centric recording, which stands as easily the most commercially viable release on Lyttle's Lyte records label and a highly enjoyable one at that.

Nigel Mooney
The Bohemian Mooney

There may have been times in the eight years between jazz and blues singer/guitarist Nigel Mooney's debut recording All My Love's In Vain (Rubyworks, 2005) and The Bohemian Mooney when fans wondered if he'd ever record again. This album has been something of a slow burner, taking three years to craft, but the wait has been worth it. With a first rate group backing him, Mooney is in great form on these dozen tracks, blending jazz, blues and R&B in his inimitable, soulful style.

As both vocalist and guitarist, Mooney draws inspiration chiefly from the 1950s Chicago blues and there' more than a hint of guitarist/singer B.B. King's influence on originals "I Ain't Ready" and the ska-inflected "Unlucky in Love." Mooney's hybrid jazz-blues guitar style shines on the instrumentals "The Bohemian Mooney" and "Bohemian Moondance"—fluid, soulful and satisfying. There's a touch of the Memphis Horns throughout, with saxophonist Michael Buckley's arrangements for trumpeter Ronan Dooney and trombonist Paul Frost lending real pizzazz.

Two Ray Charles covers, the rocking, gospel-tinged "Ain't That Love" and the simmering blues "Hard Times" showcase Mooney's vocal range, though his peppery solo on the latter provides a mini-album highlight. Mooney's quartet of versatile pianist Johnny Taylor, bassist Dan Bodwell and drummer Dominic Mullan is excellent throughout, though saxophonist Michael Buckley on "April in Paris" and trumpeter Linley Hamilton on Count Basie guitarist Freddie Green's swinging "Down for Double" take the main solo plaudits. On the latter, R&B legend Georgie Fame doubles on vocals. Another veteran, guitarist Louis Stewart adds rhythm guitar on several tracks, including a breezy take on the eternally popular "C'est Si Bon."

Though Mooney mixes it up stylistically, he's at his most compelling the bluesier he gets, and on the traditional blues "Hellhound on My Trail" —with a nod to pianist Ahmad Jamal's "Ahmad's Blues"—and "How Blue Can You Get?," with Fame contributing wonderful vocal harmonies, the Dublin bluesman is in top form. Hopefully, it won't be another eight years before Mooney hits the studio again. More of the same would do just fine.

John Moriarty

Guitarist John Moriarty's debut album was recorded in a single day in New York with renowned local musicians. It's often the case that such in-and-out sessions produce music of a spontaneous, fluid nature and that's certainly the feeling that these eight selections conjure. Moriarty has one foot firmly in the tradition, interpreting timeless jazz standards like Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower is a Lonesome Thing" and the much covered John Blackburn/Karl Suessdorf tune "Moonlight in Vermont." The guitarist's lyrical, melodic improvisations are a joy—nuanced and non-flashy. Bassist Matt Clohesy, pianist Randy Ingram and drummer Adam Pache are empathetic partners.

The quartet treads lightly on saxophonist Wayne Shorter's striking composition "Fall" and in general the vibe of Echoes is reminiscent of classic-era Blue Note. Moriarty's original compositions blend in well but have a slightly more contemporary edge than the older standards. There's plenty of collective energy on the boppish "Echoes of the Future," whereas "Ninety Six" is a delightfully intimate trio statement, with Ingram sitting out. The standout original number, however, is the infectious "Delerium," with the guitarist in more expansive mood. Moriarty's acoustic rendition of "Midnight in Vermont" is heartfelt, and closes the album on a beautifully hushed note.

Jason Rebello
Anything But Look

1999 seems like a long time ago but believe it or not that was when pianist/keyboard player Jason Rebello last recorded a session as leader, that is if you discount Jazz Rainbow (Jumby Records, 2007)—children's songs/themes reworked and jazzed up. Jazz-fusion/crossover sums up the vibe of Rebello's upbeat comeback album, and in this sense it's not unlike his early career recordings. Rebello surrounds himself with singers Omar, Joy Rose, Sumudu Jayatilaka, Wil Downing, Alicia Carroll and Xantoné Blacq, creating a groove cocktail that is soulful, funky and sexy.

Melodic wordless song, Latin tinges, driving percussion and neo-soul are all in the exotic mix. There are significant contributions from bassist Pino Palladino and saxophonist Tim Garland though bar a few dazzling though brief improvisations from Rebello soloing takes a back seat to groove and melodic hooks. If you can get beyond the "Is it jazz?" labyrinth and go straight to "Is it any good?" then the rewards are there in abundance. Hugely enjoyable and undeniably soulful tunes.

Andreas Varady/David Lyttle—Questions

Tracks: A Day In New York; Donna Lee; Blues For Edward; Festival 48; True Story; Giant Steps; Swing Thing; Softly As in A Morning Sunrise; The Shadow Of Your Smile.

Personnel: Andreas Varady: electric & acoustic guitar; David Lyttle: drums; Bandi Varady: guitar; Michael Janisch: bass.

Gay McIntyre—The Music Within Me

Tracks: Days of Wine and Roses; Darn That Dream; My Foolish Heart; Shadow of Your Smile; Body and Soul; Some Day My Prince Will Come; My Romance.

Personnel: Gay McIntyre: alto saxophone & clarinet; Linley Hamilton: trumpet; Johnny Taylor: piano; David Redmond: bass; Dominic Mullan: drums.

Jon Leighton—Dramatic Life

Tracks: Married The Messenger; Ameltie; Precious Life; For Keats; The Dress; Nothing to Gain; Whin Bush; A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever.

Personnel: John Leighton: piano; Anna Stott: vocal; Michael Buckley: tenor & alto saxophone, flute; Mark McKnight: guitar; Michael Janisch: bass; David Lyttle: drums.

The Lloyd Ryan Big Band—Drivin' Force

Tracks: Moondance; I Wish I Knew; Norwegian Wood; Funtime; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; You Gotta Try; Ice Castles; The Creep; Groovin Hard; Big Swing Face; Cute; One For Monk.

Personnel: Lloyd Ryan: drums; J. P. Gervasoni, Henry Amberg-Jennings, Steve Fishwick, Paul Jordanous: trumpets; Patrick Johns, Tim Smart, Adrian Fry, Nathan Gash: trombones; Matt Wates, Andy Mac, Bob Sydor, Vasilis Xenopolous, Simon Bates: saxophones; Geof Castle: piano; Rob Statham: bass.

David Lyttle—Interlude

Tracks: This Moon of Ours; Questions; Uncertain Steps; I Don't Mind; Angel; Interlude; The Road; Seek; Optimistic.

Personnel: David Lyttle: drums (1-7, 9), percussion (1-3, 5-7, 9), bass (1, 6), keyboards (2-5, 7), organ (8), cello (8); Homecut: vocals (1, 6, 9); Andreas Varady: guitar (1, 6); Michael Buckley: flute (1), saxophone (2, 4, 7), backing vocals (9); Rhea: vocals (2, 4-6); Anne Lyttle: vocals (7), backing vocals (2); Linley Hamilton: trumpet (2); Keith Duffy: bass (2, 5, 9); Soweto Kinch: vocals (3); ILLspokinN: vocals (3, 7); Pino Palladino: bass (3); Wile Man: vocals (5); Jaelle Haze: vocals (7); Margot Daly: backing vocals (9); Jason Rebello: keyboards (9).

Nigel Mooney—The Bohemian Mooney

Tracks: I Ain't Ready; Ain't That Love; Down for Double; Unlucky in Love; Hard Times; April in Paris; The Bohemian Mooney; Hellhound on my Trail; C'est Si Bon; How Blue Can You Get?; Bohemian Moondance; Farewell to Bohemia.

Personnel: Nigel Mooney: vocals and guitar; Johnny Taylor: piano; Dan Bodwell: bass; Dominic Mullan: drums; Georgie Fame: vocals (3, 10); Louis Stewart: acoustic rhythm guitar: (3, 6, 9); Michael Buckley: tenor saxophone (4, 6, 12), baritone saxophone (1, 11), flute (9); Richie Buckley: alto saxophone (2); Linley Hamilton: trumpet (3); Eamonn Murray: harmonica (8); Dr. Legin Yenoom: tambourine (1-2), additional piano (12).

John Moriarty—Echoes

Tracks: Yesterdays; Fall; Echoes of the Future; Ninety Six; Meandering; A Flower is a Lonesome Thing; Delirium; Moonlight in Vermont.

Personnel: John Moriarty: guitar; Randy Ingram: piano; Adam Pache; drums; Matt Clohesy: bass.

Jason Rebello—Anything But Look

Tracks: Know What You Need; The Man on the Train; Without a Paddle; Anything But Look; Dark Night of the Soul; With Immediate Effect; Is This How; In the Thick of It; New Joy; Lighten Up the Load.

Personnel: Jason Rebello: piano, keyboards, bass (7), backing vocals (6); Troy Miller: drums (1-5, 8-10), guitar (7), percussion (4); Pino Palladino; bass (1, 4, 6-7, 9-10); Karl Rasheed-Abel: acoustic bass (2-3, 5, 8); Paul Stacey: guitar (3, 6, 9); Jeremy Stacey; drums 6); George Rebello: drums (7); Miles Bould: percussion (1-3,10); Joy Rose: vocals (9), backing vocals (1, 6, 9-10); Jacob Collier: vocals (8); Omar: vocals (1); Xantoné Blacq: vocals (10); Wil Downing: vocals (7); Sumudu Jayatilaka: vocals (2); Alicia Carroll: vocals (5); Aja Downing: backing vocals (7); Tim Garland: flute (8), bass clarinet (10).

Photo Credit
Marian Bencat

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