⭐ Review Remembering Lyle Mays, and celebrating "Eberhard"

Rating - Music
5.00 star(s)
Rating - Sound
5.00 star(s)
It was a year and a half ago that we lost Lyle Mays to a long-term illness. Lyle was musically inclined from a very young age, learning guitar and piano in a small town in Wisconsin. His interests beside music included mathematics, architecture, chess, and a lot of this fed his logical mind, something that would inform his career path both as a musician and in technology. While he took early lessons on his instruments, he also created his own improvised compositions from an early age, which came naturally to him. Only when he discovered jazz was the connection made.

1630300183421.pngLyle spent time at the University of North Texas on a scholarship, and accomplished two firsts with the university's jazz lab band (documented on the album Lab '75). He composed all but one chart on the album (the remaining tune was composed by Chick Corea), and arranged all the tunes on the album--usually, several composers and arrangers participated in the yearly Lab albums. In addition, the album was the first college/university album to be nominated for a Grammy award.

Lyle met Pat Metheny in 1974. After Pat joined Lyle for a fill-in gig with Marlena Shaw's backing band, Pat convinced Lyle to join him. They first performed together on Pat's Watercolors album for ECM (which featured Eberhard Weber on bass), and shortly thereafter, Pat formed the Pat Metheny Group, for which Lyle wrote or co-wrote compositions and arrangements, and with Pat, shaped the sound and structure of the band.

While the band was sold to the public as a "jazz" act, the roots of much of the music were based in Classical forms and structures, with the added instrumentation (synthesizers, etc.) serving as a means to fill out and broaden the sound of the Group. Yet it also retained the improvisational aspect of jazz. This was most fully realized with the PMG's final recording, The Way Up, a singular work presented as a series of four movements. Yet even as far back as the self-titled first PMG album, on the tune "San Lorenzo" which leads off the album, the structure of the tune is unlike any other in jazz, and Lyle's solo is a composition itself within the tune. The epic title track from First Circle is where the PMG finally locked into a signature style of composing and performing that would inform the rest of their work together.

Lyle's solo recordings allowed him to stretch out. In many interviews over the years, he considered himself a composer more than a pianist, jazz musician, soloist, etc., and his small number of recordings bear this out. While Lyle Mays and Street Dreams featured a wide palette of sound, the trio album Fictionary (with bassist Marc Johnson and the great Jack DeJohnette on drums) surprised many in its simplicity. Yet beneath that simplicity, the structure of these jazz trio tunes again was unconventional, some improvised on the spot. (A live album recorded on the tour for this album, The Ludwigsburg Concert, wouldn't be released until 2015.) Lyle's fourth and final studio album, Solo: Improvisations for Expanded Piano, took this even further. Lyle recorded a series of improvisations on a MIDI piano, later using the MIDI data to fill out the sound of the album with orchestrations performed on synthesizer.

In addition to recording his solo albums and with the PMG, he also performed a few side gigs. He was featured on a series of children's recordings, performed and co-produced (with PMG bassist/producer Steve Rodby) Schemes and Dreams for his university friend Pat Coil, and also performed on a handful of ECM recordings, such as Eberhard Weber's Later That Evening.

In 2009, he also contributed his arranging skills for the Zeltsman Marimba Festival, invited by his longterm friend Nancy Zeltsman. In addition to arranging some existing compositions for marimba and vibraphone (with a jazz rhythm section and voices), he also wrote a long-form piece called "Eberhard" that debuted at the festival.

Following that festival, Lyle largely retreated from the music business, spending time working with a music software company. Lyle had previously written his own programs and sequences for his synthesizers, something his logical mind enjoyed. So, this was a natural fit for him.

While the new version of "Eberhard" has its roots in the same MIDI demo he created for the 2009 performance, Lyle filled out the instrumentation with an all-start assemblage of musicians, and recorded new parts of his own. Longtime friends such as guitarist Bill Frisell and keyboardist Mitchel Forman, acoustic bass and producer Steve Rodby, Alex Acuña and Jim Branly (drums and percussion), and Bob Sheppard (sax, woodwinds), along with a handful of others. The wordless vocals are led by Lyle's niece Aubrey Johnson, who also performed on the 2009 version.

So, what is "Eberhard" like? Given its posthumous release, the entire work almost feels as though it is a career retrospective. There are of course snippets in the composition that are reminiscent of Eberhard Weber's recordings. For instance, the wordless vocals strongly recall similar vocals used on Weber's Fluid Rustle album. The marimba figure that opens and closes the work are reminiscent of Lyle's piano part in "Maurizius" from Weber's Later That Evening, as well as actual solos of Webers (such as the solo that opens "Hommage" from Pat Metheny's own tribute to Weber). In addition, a taste of the musical sensibilities that informed the Pat Metheny Group are present here as well. And of course, Lyle's own compositional style and unique touch to the piano are heard throughout.

Associate producer Bob Rice puts this nicely into words: "I enjoy a million things about 'Eberhard', but those that stand out to me at this moment are: the masterful development of thematic materials, the elegance of each transition, the musical puzzles that unfold throughout, the clarity of lines, the profound beauty of every sound you hear, and, of course, his incredible touch on the piano. Every time I listen, something else reveals itself."

Aubrey Johnson describes the emotional side of this great piece: "My favorite thing about 'Eberhard' is that it is transcendent. Every time I listen to it, I find that my mental state is affected remarkably, that wherever I am emotionally and intellectually when I press play is not the same place I return to when the piece is over. Art is meant to transport us, and to show us what could be--'Eberhard' accomplishes this profoundly."

Overall, "Eberhard" is a haunting, touching finale for Lyle's career, unfortunate as that may be. This is a fine farewell to all of us, summing up so many highlights in his career through this thirteen minute musical journey. I can't give this recording anything less than my highest rating.

I was very sad when Lyle passed away.(to think his passing last year was a prelude of worse things to come...) His music with The Pat Metheny Group got me through some tough times in my life as well as provided the soundtrack for some of the happiest times in my life as well. Pat and Lyle created some of the most beautiful tone poems of the latter 20th century; tunes that could evoke different emotions in a person, like contemplation, happiness, even a bit of sadness, and even some sensuality("Are You Going With Me" is a very sensual tune) because their compositions were deep and well structured, but even with this, there was major improvisation and great interplay between the Group members.

Their music crossed all racial, ethnic and generational lines(even my grandmother and my aunt and cousin liked them!) because they explored different musical territories like pop, Brazilian music, R&B, funk, rock, African, Caribbean, classical, and even a bit of country and easy listening in their repertoire because Pat and Lyle were musically adventurous and innovative. it was strange not seeing Lyle not being part of Pat's ensemble anymore, but from what I understand( and from what Pat says) Lyle was getting more and more tired of the road, constant gigging. in and out of hotel rooms what with all the constant touring, and wanting to pursue more of a solo career, and more stability in his life, he left the band.

His 1988 solo effort STREET DREAMS is a contemporary jazz masterpiece, and should be considered to be a textbook study for any up and coming jazz(or for any other musician for that matter!)musician who wants to know how to put together a great album. the tune on the album, "Before You Go" is one of the most beautiful, funk laden tunes I've ever heard, so much that when I heard it on the radio, I thought that it was a left over tune by Barry White, Isaac Hayes, or Curtis Mayfield that I hadn't heard before!(this also shows that great music is great music no matter what color or ethnic makeup of the person composing or performing it.)

In addition to his work with musical software, from what I also understand, he also dabbled in architecture which was also a love of his. So he was quite the Renaissance Man! His music touched so many lives and not only I , but there were so many people upset when Lyle passed away.(is it any wonder that a poster on youtube said that when heard the news of Lyle's passing, he pulled his car over on the side of the road and started to cry?)

Yes, Lyle and Pat's music touched so many people's lives(and will touch many more in generations to come) Thank you Mr. Mays for the wonderful music you created with Mr. Metheny, and just know that you were/still are loved. Rest In Peace, maestro; like I said before; you were/still are loved.

In addition to his work with musical software, from what I also understand, he also dabbled in architecture which was also a love of his.
He was big fan of LEGO bricks and in one of his homes (in Boston), he had a room dedicated to them, making some elaborate structures. He translated that talent into architecture, designing a home for his sister.


Nancy Zeltsman (marimba) had rented a room from Lyle at his home and it eventually worked out to where he composed "Eberhard" for one of her marimba festivals. There is more about the LEGOs and Zeltsman on Lyle's site here:

If you have a few minutes, look over the entire Words section, as there is a lot of history about Lyle in the comments made by others. It's a great tribute.

the tune on the album, "Before You Go" is one of the most beautiful, funk laden tunes I've ever heard, so much that when I heard it on the radio, I thought that it was a left over tune by Barry White, Isaac Hayes, or Curtis Mayfield that I hadn't heard before!(this also shows that great music is great music no matter what color or ethnic makeup of the person composing or performing it.)
That tune and "Possible Straight" were the two that received airplay on our local jazz radio station--many good memories of driving home late at night. Those are what drew me into purchasing the album, my first of Lyle's. I believe I bought Fictionary when it came out, but it took almost a decade later until I had time to discover Pat Metheny's catalog. (I'd borrowed Letter From Home from the library, and a month or so later I picked up half a dozen used records to see what I might like of it all.)

What I like is how "Eberhard" sums up all the good points of his recordings, and still reaches back to the aesthetic of his first two albums (Lyle Mays and Street Dreams).

I'll leave you somewhere in Maine with this:

(Composed by Lyle. As if we couldn't tell. 😁)
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