Intentionally or not, keyboardist Lyle Mays
seems to maintain a public profile that's lower than low. His most famous engagement is his tenure in a group named for someone else (Pat Metheny
), and The Ludwigsburg Concert
is only his sixth solo release since his eponymous solo debut for Warner Bros. Jazz in 1985, and his first since Solo: Improvisations for Extended Piano
for Warner Bros. in 2000. (Mays does appear in the Metheny Group for The Way Up
[2005, Nonesuch]) and concert DVD Imaginary Day Live
[2008, Eagle Rock]).
The only recording of the Lyle Mays Quartetwith saxophonist Bob Sheppard
, drummer Mark Walker
, and bassist Marc Johnson
, one of Mays' oldest and dearest friends, going back to collegeThe Ludwigsburg Concert
is something of an event, and does not even slightly disappoint. "It was just at this time the music industry was changing. We had no money for a big road crew, trucks, synthesizer, technicians, and were happy just to have gigs at all," Mays recalls in the notes to this set. "For me, it was a challenge, because I wasn't used to playing only the piano."
Mays opens with an opus, the title track of his 1992 solo album Fictionary
(Geffen Records). His introductory solo sounds comfortable and sturdy, inviting the listener to both relax and listen, and immediately illustrates why Mays and Metheny played together so excellently and for so long: They both play jazz with an easy, almost casual sound that welcomes, not challenges, the listener, rendering clear melodies in warm, full tones. Sheppard's sax leads the rhythm section in, then pushes the melody and harmonies further out, and eventually teams with Mays' piano to end this tune by blowing so hard that it scatters the music apart like autumn leaves swirling windblown from their tree. (It's worth noting that this 24-minute piece would comprise an entire album side in the days of vinyl.) "Either Ornette" conjures images of a small bop quartet discretely burning up the corner of a small club. Mays plays with bright notes that ring so clear, hanging heavy in the air or dissipating into the next note like mist, sounding much like vibes master Gary Burton
and then scatters a few dissonant Monk chords 'round the ending.
Disc two jumps off with the rollicking "Hard Eights," with Sheppard's saxophone bop abstractions bounding off of Walker's rocking drums like ricocheting bullets. It also features the contemplative "Au Lait," co-composed with Metheny for the guitarist's Offramp
album (1981, ECM), and primarily a piano-saxophone duet with Mays sketching out wispy traces of Erik Satie
"When I then heard the concert, I was almost shocked. How was it possible?" Mays remembers. "We seemed to have played flawlessly and full of energy! That was a magical night! At the end, we were really happy we'd played so well and it was recorded so excellently."