Jazz was unfair to soulful vibraphonist Johnny Lytle (1932-1996). He recorded frequently throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, often as part of producer Orrin Keepnews's label affiliations (Jazzland, Riverside, Tuba and Milestone). Lytle nearly scored a hit with 1963's "The Village Caller" (reissued on CD by OJC last year) and acquired belated fame when the acid-jazz crowd adopted his catchy, funky vibe to the dance floor (reference BGP's excellent compilation of Lytle's mid-1960s classics The Loop/New and Groovy ).
He always sounded savvy and soulful, whether playing fast or slow. But as consistently appealing, warm and distinctive as his sound was, his mannerisms often included a ringing alarm bell climax and a tendency to lay on the foot pedal for effect. This probably did little to get him accepted by the bop-n-blues swingers who embraced Milt Jackson as a role model, the Latin lovers that percussive Cal Tjader was wooing, or the new-thing crowd who adhered to the freer pianisms of Bobby Hutcherson.
1962's Nice and Easy, Lytle's third date as a leader, contains none of these mannerisms and was, probably, as close to an all-star session as Lytle would ever lead. It's a solid swinger in the post-bop tradition of Milt Jackson's all-star sax-and-vibes sessions. It's also one of the few times Lytle's vibes weren't paired with an organ. The tenor sax of Johnny Griffin takes charge here; in fact, it's as much the tenor's date as Lytle's. The two leaders are backed by Cannonball Adderley's rhythm section of the period: Bobby Timmons on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. The 40-minute program is easily satisfying and includes two Lytle originals, two standards, Griffin's well-named title track, Roy Haynes's "That's All" and Timmons's "Soul Time." Lytle works well with Griffin and is especially well-suited to Timmons's equally soulful style (Lytle reunited with Timmons on the pianist's wonderful Workin' Out ). Nice to have Fantasy returning Lytle's records into circulation, and like so many other Lytle titles, quite easy to enjoy.
Songs:But Not For Me; Soul Time; That's All; 322-WOW!; Coroner's Blues; Nice and Easy; Old Folks.
Players:Johnny Lytle: vibes; Johhny Griffin: tenor sax; Bobby Timmons: piano; Sam Jones: bass; Louis Hayes: drums.