Album Review: Lyle Mays Quartet - "The Ludwigsburg Concert"

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Lyle Mays Quartet
The Ludwigsburg Concert
SWR Jazzhaus

The release of this 2-CD live recording is akin to the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls for fans of Lyle Mays. Outside of his integral work with the Pat Metheny Group for 18 years he has produced scant recordings on his own. This 1993 acoustic quartet concert (along with his 1992 trio recording Fictionary), are rare chances to hear Mays focus solely on the acoustic piano. He wears the influence of Jarrett, Bley, and Evans proudly, but Lyle has distilled those styles and more into his own unique voice.

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Highlights abound: the 6:30 minute piano introduction to “Fictionary” is a tour-de-force of flowing lines, rich harmonies, gospel/folk elements, and sheer bravura. The band enters and saxist Bob Sheppard plays a strong solo, prodded on by Lyle’s wonderful comping. Then Mays takes another solo, weaving fresh, shifting, propulsive lines that feel completely different from his approach on the intro. “Either Ornette” showcases the band in a swinging context, with some slippery chromaticism that nods to the titled influence. “Chorinho” opens again with solo piano, with Lyle playing in a wonderful two-handed, latin-tinged style. The influence of Paul Bley is clearly felt in “Lincoln Reviews His Notes”, and the rhythm section plays with tasteful restraint. “Au Lait” is the only tune not penned by Mays: it is a Pat Metheny composition. I am reminded of Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet during the performance, with the ability to let beautiful melodies and parts sing out, in a chamber-music setting. Lyle’s solo is a masterclass in building the arc of a performance.

Throughout the CD I was struck by the organic development of Mays’ ideas: phrases build upon themselves and develop with a clear logic. In this context you can appreciate Lyle’s mature, two-handed playing, and his probing harmonic, rhythmic and melodic interplay with the rest of the band. Gospel, jazz, romantic, and free-play intermingles in a superb release that proves that Lyle Mays is one of the giants of his generation. It’s an essential recording to learn from and enjoy. Perhaps if we all buy the recording we can send a clear message to Lyle that his playing and music are missed, and we want to hear more from him.

Lyle Mays: piano

Marc Johnson: bass

Bob Sheppard: sax

Mark Walker: drums