Johnny Lytle ‘Four Original Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

Something of a cult musician in the UK who sprang up to notoriety when a re-issue of ‘The Village Corner’ became an unexpected 1980’s dancefloor hit with Acid Jazz devotees and then an even rarer track, ‘The Loop’ became a BGP re-issued to much fanfare, not forgetting Lytle 45’s have even found favour among the more progressive elements of the northern soul fraternity. This foursome however, focuses attention on his early 1960’s Riverside albums, three trio combos (one featuring the extended percussion of Ray Barretto), while the jewel in the crown here is an extremely hard to find quartet recording with tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin (see his own contribution as a leader on another Avid Jazz re-issue).

By far the best and most varied is ‘Nice And Easy’, from 1962 and it is pity Lytle stuck to the organ trio formula because he was far better when backed by a pianist. In this case, it is Bobby Timmons and a rhythm section which is equally gifted, with Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. The bustling opener, ‘But Not For Me’, leads into a more intricate motif on ‘Soul Tune’, and there is excellent use of space by the leader. The quartet are in full flow on ‘322 Wow!’, which was another tune that 1980’s jazz DJ’s picked up on. The sensitive side of the vibraphonist is showcased on ‘That’s All’, and there is a wonderful left-field complete with unusual time signature on the strangely titled ‘Coroner’s Blues’.

In contrast, ‘Moon Child’, from the same year, is somewhat pedestrian, though the subtle uptempo title track is typical of Lytle’s approach. Ray Barretto is in fine form at a stage in his career when he regularly accompanied jazz musicians, making the music of a superior standard to the previous two trio outings. Cannonball Adderley probably never envisaged such a slow tempo would accompany ‘Work Song’, but here the intro is significantly slowed down before it then moves up a couple of gears into a swinging number. It has to be said that the minor blues reading of ‘A Taste Of Honey’, is a qualified success, but the albums nevertheless closes on a high with the uptempo ‘Minor Man’, that maintains a relentless pace throughout.

Of the two trio organ combo albums, from 1960s and 1961 respectively, ‘Blues Vibes’ impresses more, with a hint to Milt Jackson and not simply because Albert Heath is on the drums. The mainly standard repertoire works well, with ‘Autumn Leaves’ a highlight and ‘Over The Rainbow’ a surprise inclusion. Lytle covers a Jackson original, ‘Movin’ Nicely’, but it is his own title track that shines most brightly. A similar set up inhabits the 1961 album, ‘Happy Ground’, and there are two Lytle originals this time, with the title track a bouncy number, but it is in fact the ballads that stand out, with ‘When I Fall In Love’ and ‘My Funny Valentine’, the pick of the bunch. Johnny Lytle somewhat faded away during the mid-1960’s, but returned to attention in the 1970’s on Muse Records.

Tim Stenhouse