JOHNNY LYTLE: GOT THAT FEELING!
Johnny Lytle Trio: Johnny Lytle (vib) Milt Harris (org) Peppy Hinnant (drs) plus Milt Hinton (b)
Plaza Sound Studio, NYC; April 3, 1963
Got That Feeling! (4:40) (Johnny Lytle)
Pow-Wow (2:38) (Nat Adderley-Joe Zawinul)
In The Wee Small Hours of the morning (3:17) (James-Elliot)
Big John Grady (3:28) (Johnny Lytle)
The Breeze and I (4:59) (Lecuona-Stillman)
It Ain’t Necessarily So (4:26) (George & Ira Gershwin)
Lela (4:30) (Johnny Lytle)
Love Is Here to Stay (3:44) (George & Ira Gershwin)
The Soulful One (5:07) (Johnny Lytle)
Having established himself as a leading contender in the vibraphone sweepstakes with four excellent albums for Riversides affiliate, Jazzland, Johnny Lytle here makes his debut on the parent label with an impressive display on taste, feeling and musicianship.
The vibraphone was strictly a novelty instrument until Louis Armstrong heard his drummer, Lionel Hampton, fool around with it between takes at a 1930 recording session, immediately featured him on a number, and encouraged him to continue his explorations. The rest is jazz history. With its blend of percussive and melodic characteristics, the vibraphone was ideally suited for jazz. Still, relatively few musicians specialized in vibes until the advent of Milt Jackson. (Red Norvo, who preceded Hamp, was a xylophonist who didn’t switch to vibes until the early ‘40s, and he has retained a xylophonic approach.)
The story of Johnny Lytle ties in neatly with vibraphone history. Like Hampton, he was originally a drummer. His original and attractive style combines elements of both Hampton and Jackson. And occasionally, when he cuts off his vibrato, he produces a dry, effervescent, xylophone-like sound.
Born in Springfield, Ohio (a city which gave jazz the talents of among others, Garvin Bushell, Quentin “Buster” Jackson, Sir Charles Thompson and Earle Warren, and was the cradle of one of the most famous big bands of the ‘20s, McKnney’s Cotton Pickers), Lytle exemplifies the young jazzman solidly grounded in the tradition of winging, direct, un-experimental jazz.
His trio (heard on this album with bassist Milt Hinton added) is a steadily working unit, and the impressive empathy between the players is is based on a long and happy on-the-job association. Organist Milt Harris has been Lytle’s friend since boyhood, and their musical partnership dates back to 1957. Drummer “Peppy” Hinant joined the trio in June 1960, shortly after Lytle’s first record date.
The combination of vibes, organ and drums is an unusual one; though trios including an organ are rapidly becoming one of the staples of the jazz-club circuit, tenor sax or guitar are the customary ingredients. The blend achieved by Lytle and Harris is most appealing, and a tribute to the organist’s sensitivity and discretion. The Hammond organ can be a menace in the bands of a player fascinated by its capacity for sound of gargantuan proportions. Happily, Harris can be delicate as well as driving, and he never obscures the clear sonority and line of Lytle’s vibes. Harris does not use the bass register of his instrument here, allowing Hinton’s part full prominence and avoiding the clouded bottom which often comes about when about when organ bass and string bass contend on record.
Lytle’s program for this album is varied in mood and tempo. As has become customary on Lytle dates, there are several of his own originals, demonstrating his talent for crating catchy, infectious melodies from seemingly simple and basic elements of the jazz vocabulary. Lytle’s sound is richer than that of most young vibraphonist, and though he has technique to spare, he avoids the temptation to run all over the instrument. He uses double-timing judiciously and most effectively, and can be unabashedly singing and lyrical. His lines are mobile and he swings at any tempo. The total effect of his playing is joyous and vibrant; communicating pleasure in making music, which is one of the great and lasting pleasures in listening to jazz.
The opener, Got that Feeling, at once establishes a mellow churchy mood in swinging 3/4 time. The organ’s tremolos echo the vibes, there is some “stop-time” preaching by Lytle, and the “amen” ending is straight from the source. Pow-wow, written for this date by two Lytle fans – Nat Adderley and his stablemate, Joe Zawinul – is a tongue-in-cheek helping of Indian funk. A feeling of quiet beauty dominates In the Wee Small Hours, an instrumental version of one of Frank Sinatra’s best romantic efforts. Lytle opens with a chimes effect; his approach to a ballad has much in common with old master Lionel Hampton. Big John Grady, named after a good friend, is a way-up romp in the scalular “Milestones” groove. It’s Lytle’s al that way, with a percussive vibes-organ party as the highlight. The relaxed latin mood of The Breeze and I launches Lytle on some really lyrical improvisation, and the extended ending has fun with a familiar nursery rhyme.
Side “ is a Gershwin-Lytle doubleheader. It Ain’t Necessarily So, a tune remarkably similar in harmony and construction to the current crop of jazz originals, is a convincing demonstration of ensemble empathy. It is followed by Leda, haunting, blues-tinged line that was first recorded by Lytle a couple of years ago, and has become probably his best-known number. (It is credited with building up a demand for the trio in Chicago before they had ever played there.) Lytle does his “xylophone thing” here, during which the organ drops out, pointing up the percussive flavor.
Love Is Here to Stay, the second Gershwin item, begins with a calm and gentle exposition of the lovely melody, backed by bass only. (Don’t miss Milt Hinton’s superb counterline – he is a brick throughout.) When the organ floats in under him, Lytle varies his sound effectively, and again shows his gift fro melodic improvisation. Johnny’s the Soulful One takes us out as we came in: in a gospel bag. The back-beat is strong but never over-emphatic. During his solo, Harris sustains a left-hand drone with eerie, hypnotic overtones. Lytle swings all the way – as he does throughout the album. He’s soulful one, all right –and a young man to be reckoned with!
Editor, JAZZ Magazine
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER (recorded at Plaza Sound Studios; New York City)
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photo by LAWRENCE SHUSTAK
This recording is available in both Stereophonic (RS 9456) and Monaural (RM 456) form
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York City 36, New York