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Lyte Records: Dancing To Different Beats

Ian Patterson By

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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
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2010

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