Nearly 30 years and 15 albums deep into one of contemporary jazz's most consistently melodic and funky careers, Bobby Lyle continues to take a Hands On approach to creating a perfect balance of elegance and groove. On his Heads Up debut, the versatile pianist - who has been musical director for Bette Midler, Al Jarreau, and Anita Baker, et al., between solo projects - is intent on grabbing the listener right away with three jamming and danceable, synth brass-flavored tracks that also lightly showcase his inventive and playful sense of improvisation. He sandwiches a gleeful, bouncy version of the familiar disco hit "Best of My Love" with the seductive "Passion Drive" and the title cut, on which Lyle floats a light-on-its-feet melody over thoroughly modern crunchy, thumping beats. Amidst this rhythmic overdrive are a handful of cuts that perfectly capture Lyle's trademark romantic vibe: the balmy, tropically tinged "Poinciana," the reflective closer "Beth" (which showcases his sweet ivory magic at its most poignant), and "Lost in Love," an irresistible ballad written and performed by Lyle and the always captivating Peabo Bryson. Longtime Lyle fans will also enjoy the heavy mix of old-school synth and acoustic piano on "Return of the Genie," which recalls the cool vibe of his debut album, The Genie. It's a perfect way to chart his growth as an artist over the years and to show that the charm was there from the beginning.
All Music Guide
Throughout his three decade career, pianist/keyboardist Bobby Lyle has developed an international reputation not only for his dazzling piano technique, but also for his versatility and ability to constantly reinvent himself, both as a leader, sideman and even as music director for superstars Bette Midler, Al Jarreau and Anita Baker. With the worldwide release of Hands On (HUCD 3113), Lyle adds another significant title to his already impressive discography.
"A contemporary celebration of love, life and rhythm" is how Bobby Lyle describes his Heads Up debut. "Within the twelve songs there are expressions of all of those things. I wanted the overall tone of the record to be funky and upbeat, but with romantic interludes."
Hands On - Lyle's 15th album overall - is a unique blend of contemporary jazz classics and acoustic piano compositions that crosses the boundaries between straight-ahead and contemporary jazz. A brilliant showcase for this gifted songwriter/producer/arranger's unique talents, Hands On features an array of timeless tracks containing an entire world of emotion.
Lyle kicks off with "Passion Drive," one of nine original tracks to spotlight his amazing ability to combine acoustic piano sophistication with addictive beats. The thick and insistent groove on the title track draws from both modern and old-school music. Indeed, Lyle's R&B background is apparent on such tasty cuts as the Maurice White/Al McKay classic "Best of My Love" and Michael McDonald's "Minute By Minute." For longtime Lyle fans, tracks like the bright and bouncy "Fancy Pants," the quietly elegant jazz standard "Poinciana" and the graceful "True Spirit" perfectly summarize the multi-faceted keyboardist's range and influences.
In addition to Lyle, Hands On features special guest Peabo Bryson, who co-wrote and sings on the track, "Lost In Our Love." "Peabo and I are good friends, says Lyle. "I've always admired his work and he's a first class crooner. He's so professional and easy to work with. He always delivers."
Rounding out the project are guitarists Todd Parsnow, John Calderon and Brennen Nase, bassists Martin Walters, Larry Kimpel, Keith Vivens and John Adams, saxophonists Wayne DeLano, Dave Caseras and Joe Vincelli, trumpeter Larry Spencer, trombonist Keith Adkins, drummer Keith Banks, percussionist Jorge Ginorio, and backing vocalists Dailyn Valdez, Melanie Covington and Derrick McCampbell.
Bobby Lyle was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and started studying piano at age six when his family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. He met and jammed with Jimi Hendrix, who was planning on starting a jazz-rock band with Lyle, Willie Weeks on bass and Bill Lordan on drums before his untimely death in 1970. After moving to Los Angeles in 1974, he began a nine-month tour with Sly and the Family Stone, and later a stint with the Ronnie Laws Band. "At one time I was a jazz purist," Lyle says. "The two people who really opened up my mind were Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. I really admired the work that they were doing."
This led to a meeting with Wayne Henderson of the Jazz Crusaders who took him to Capitol Records for his first solo recording deal in 1977. After three albums, Lyle returned to the touring circuit, hitting the road in 1981 with George Benson. He followed this with extensive tours with Bette Midler, Al Jarreau and Anita Baker (all as musical director).
"After my first record deal at Capitol, Anita Baker called me just as her Rapture album was going platinum," says Lyle. "I always enjoyed her music because she brought some jazz elements to her work. I was very fortunate to be a musical director with such wonderful artists in the '80s. I'm always running into people who come up to me and say, 'I saw you with Anita Baker in 1986!'"
A recording deal with Atlantic Records in 1988 spawned six albums in nine years, including The Journey, which became a # 1 jazz album in 1990. Lyle continued to tour with his own bands as well as with Midler. He received an Emmy nomination for his musical direction on her HBO Special, "Diva Las Vegas," in 1997. Lyle's 2002 album, Joyful, peaked at # 8 on Billboard's contemporary jazz chart and his 2004 release, Straight and Smooth, became the first album in history to appear on Billboard's contemporary jazz and traditional jazz charts simultaneously.
"I'm just a musician who's trying to keep real playing alive," concludes Lyle. "Whatever the genre, I want that sense of live energy. That's what has always made jazz so appealing to me."