Jazz Keyboardist - Lyle Mays
Galileo famously observed;
“Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.”
Given the complexity of this album review, this quote applies to Lyle Mays the Jazz keyboard maestro, as well.
Lyle Mays is both subtle and complex about his unique keyboard work.
Growing up, Mays said he had four main interests: mathematics, architecture, chess, and music.
His parents were intellectually and musically inclined.
His mother was a pianist, and his father was a guitarist.
Lyle played piano all his life, starting his lessons in early childhood to today becoming one of the foremost Jazz artists in the world.
He is best known for his work with guitarist Pat Metheny, as a member of "The Pat Metheny Group" since 1974.
Lyle Mays provides arrangements, orchestration, plays keyboards, and lends harmonic ideas to the group's musical signature identity; a combination of rock, bossa nova, and Jazz.
Pat Metheny has 20 Grammy wins, Mays has been a co-composer and arranger on nearly all The Pat Metheny Group's music, and has won eleven Grammy Awards for himself.
My latest favorite album is; Lyle Mays - "Solo Improvisations for Extended Piano".
Like his longtime cohort, the Jazz guitar legend Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays executes a deceptive simplicity on his solo projects.
Any other pianist with a solo piano album might just play some lovely romantic piano improvisations and leave it at that.
But on his fourth solo recording, The Metheny Group keyboardist; Lyle Mays boldly goes where perhaps no jazz pianist has gone before.
Mays' approach is so unique and risky, that one almost has to be a music "MIDI" technician to appreciate the way he achieves such a rich texturing of piano and MIDI (synthesizer triggering) orchestrations.
"Solo Improvisations For Extended Piano" paints visual impressionistic scenes with Lyle's acoustic piano as the lead solo instrument and the synthesizers quietly fill in the background.
Lyle plays improvised solo piano compositions, but he adds varied synthesizer colors as fills and textures. The sounds from the electronics are generated by a synthesizer hooked up to the piano.
This is all executed live on the spot and recorded live.
The synth textures and electronic colors are "triggered" from the grand piano notes and chords.
It is a grand piano hooked up via Musical Instrument Digital Interface technology (MIDI).
Suffice it to say, this music doesn't sound like any other piano-based jazz project.
Its more like an ambient new age record, but more active and provocative musically.
Jazz music requires multiple listens to fully appreciate the combination of instruments and interplay. This album is no different with its spontaneous piano composing and the complex synthesizer attachments.
The mix and engineering is provided by Rich Breen.
Breen holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Rochester and studied music at the Eastman School of Music. He has experience in analog circuit design and MIDI technology.
His breadth of specialized experience in the recording studio perfectly captures the clarity and mood of each Piano/Keyboard Visualization.
Each song title is elegantly realized musically. You can see the music come together before your eyes and ears by reading each song title before or during each song.
At times, Mays is dramatic on this album; "Black Ice", "Origami","The Imperative" and "Procession".
Then he'll switch it up and become quietly reflective, as he does on; "Let Me Count The Ways", "We Are All Alone", and the poignant; "Long Life", which closes out the album peacefully and beautifully.
Right from the opening track called; "This Moment", Mays eases us into a gentle impressionism that typifies the entire album.
In summa, this is an album you can put on when you are alone on a quiet evening and having a glass of wine, or smoking an herbal remedy, or having your nightly tea.
You will never feel the need to advance or skip a song. All the moods flow seamlessly from one emotion right into the next.
You'll hear new nuances in the synth textures that gracefully flow from the piano that you didn't even notice the last time you played the album. That's because they "crossfade" into and out of each other automatically, you could say.
There is a very smooth flow from one song to the next in an effortless, and natural way.
I have a peaceful inner journey while meditating to this album every time I listen to it.
A forever unforgettable purchase. This album never gets old.
A contemplative, relaxing, and gorgeously delicate delight.
What else would you expect from a Jazz synthesizer-piano virtuoso? Subtle and masterful.
Ideally listened to when you have your quiet moments, all to yourself, so it can speak to your soul.
By Jonathan Widran and James Clark
Jonathan Widran is a veteran music journalist who has been a regular contributor, feature writer and columnist for over 15 years to numerous publications.