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As Pat Metheny’s right-hand man, pianist/keyboardist/composer Lyle Mays helped shape the guitarist’s sound on seminal recordings from the late-’70s to the early 2000s. Unfortunately, his recorded output since that time has been virtually nil. Thus, a new release from Mays, albeit one recorded more than 20 years ago, is something jazz fans eagerly anticipated earlier this year. The two-disc Ludwigsburg Concert (SWR) captures Mays’ excellent acoustic quartet on stage in Germany in 1993 and truly spotlights his brilliance as a player and as a composer. The pianist’s signature sound, much like Metheny’s, draws on an open-skied Americana with deep Mid-Western roots — yearning, optimistic and full of color.
And that’s just how he starts the album, as he plays a lengthy solo introduction to the title track to his 1992 recording Fictionary, our selection. The tune picks up steam as the pianist is joined by saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Mark Walker, who boost the revelry to new heights. Mays’ bright, occasionally boisterous playing, and the superb rhythm section, maintain interest throughout the 24-minute track, which also provides a fine showcase for Walker’s and Sheppard’s exciting solos. Jazz fans can hope that the release will serve as a catalyst to Mays’ creativity, sparking a new wave of recordings and performances.