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Drummer Steve Lyman makes his debut as leader with Revolver, a mini-album of original compositions clocking in at just over 27 minutes. Brevity is the soul of wit, of course, and Lyman wisely avoids the desire to throw everything he has onto his first recording. The result is a concise, sharp, collection with a laidback, meditative feel that announces the arrival of an imaginative musician and writer.
Lyman moved to New York in 2005 to study at the New School in Manhattan. By 2006, he was in vocalist José James' band, staying with the singer until 2008 and appearing on his acclaimed 2007 album The Dreamer (Brownswood Productions). He's since worked extensively in New York and appeared on albums including Salt Lake City musician Dave Chisholm's big band CD Radioactive (Self Produced, 2010).
Revolver gives Lyman the chance to display his writing prowess in addition to his undoubted skills as a percussionist. He's chosen his fellow musicians wisely: this is a quartet with a great feel for Lyman's compositions. The lead voices on these tunes spring from pianist Julian Waterfall Pollack and guitarist Kenji Aihara. Underneath these instruments, Lyman and bassist Christopher Tordini lay down a spot-on rhythmic foundation.
"Meadowlark" features strong solos from both lead players, Aihara's fluid single string lines leading to Pollack's more percussive and assertive phrases. The moody, downbeat "Reproach" is an excellent ensemble performance; Lyman's solid beat partners Tordini's slightly more swinging bass while Pollack and Aihara once again deliver short but atmospheric solos and some equally brief but effective unison lines.
The more up-tempo and positive post-bop of "Going West" gives Pollack and Aihara more time to develop their ideas on solos full of drive and vivacity. "Tone-Setter" is centered on Pollack's short, repetitive left hand rhythm then moves close to progressive rock territory for Aihara's solo.
Revolver has a strength and imagination that belies Lyman's relative inexperience as a bandleader. The combination of a talented quartet of musicians and Lyman's intriguing, inventive, compositions is a winner.