For Darren Lyons, exploration of the world of jazz is as much a personal journey as it is a journey for the art itself. The drummer and percussionist describes himself as an artist who can stay true to the roots of jazz while still pushing the boundaries of genre.
"I feel there are things in jazz that have to be maintained," Lyons said, "but my interest in all other styles has led me to become adventurous and able to play multiple styles."
He has been in the vanguard of New York City jazz for 15 years. In 1996, he formed his eponymous Darren Lyons Group, which got its start at The Knitting Factory. Until 2004, the group held the coveted Saturday night slot at the Tap Bar. Lyons, who is fresh off the release of his fourth album, Evil Genius, is now taking a fresh crop of talented musicians to play at B.B. King's famed Lucille's Grill in New York. The group will make their debut there in an 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. gig on Friday, August 5.
Lyons is no stranger to the New York jazz scene. He recalled the era of the late 70s and 80s, calling it "an ideal moment to see many different styles of music by tremendous players." But these days, the boundaries of genre aren't always as easy to cross. "I still believe there are very good players in NYC today, but I feel fewer are taking chances musically," he said, attributing the situation partly to a public that would sometimes rather stand by the comfortable and the familiar. "Times change, and I think jazz purists sometimes inhibit the growth of the art form." It's all a careful balancing act. "We have to keep this music socially relevant and let it move forward," he said.
Lyons assembled a core of kindred spirits for the Lucille's gig. "The whole group has 'big ears,' and we all love similar music, which also tends to make a more cohesive end result," he said. Two of the members - Chad McLoughlin on guitar and Skip Ward on bass - are Darren Lyons Group veterans who played with Lyons on Evil Genius. Chris Clark, the keyboard player, is the newcomer, but Lyons said you wouldn't know it by the way he plays. "During my ten years playing with Chad and Skip, we have been able to develop a telepathy and radar which makes it a lot of fun. This is true of Chris Clark too, who is new but a great fit," Lyons said. "Playing with this live unit really is one of the best I have assembled. I have always been fortunate to play with guys I feel possess a greater vocabulary than myself musically, and this current lineup is by far the best in my career. I selected this lineup because of the balance it brings to the music."
And they're only getting started. There will be audio and video recordings of their Lucille's set, and Lyons said he plans to release a live CD with the group as they perform around the city. They're also looking into returning to Lucille's in October.
As if Lyons isn't busy enough, this winter he's headed for the studio with Ward, guitarist David Phelps, keyboardist Adam Holzman and a few others to produce a new Darren Lyons Group album.
The music of the Darren Lyons Group is available on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, Abstractlogix.com, and his own website, www.darrenlyons.com. Lyons can also be heard on WBGO 88.3 FM, the world's largest jazz station, which has been playing his latest acoustic release, Three Trios.
For now, Lyons said he hopes his musical journey will allow him to continue to work with great musicians in great recordings and live performances. He said he's also always keeping an eye out for new talent and having them join his group to continue to advance the art form. Of course, that is the whole meaning of the journey, for him and for jazz. "I suspect we will continue to see musicians break musical walls down as they have done," he said. "I have faith."
-- ASCAP, interview 8/2011
Three Trios Review
I have to say my favorite is your take on EVERY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE...I've never heard like that before and Dug it! Your groove on Boplicity makes it an ideal 1st song for this CD. Also love the range of the songlist ,from the 1940s thru the 1960s, from Raincheck to Night Dreamer...never thought a trio could swing Mamacita the way you guys do!
-- Rob Crocker, WBGO-FM
Evil Genius Review
Darren Lyons, a well-respected drummer based in New York, leads both acoustic and electric jazz bands. Evil Genius features the latter, an ensemble that has been together for over nine years.
Lyons started drum lessons when he was just four. Among his teachers while growing up were Peter Erskine, Adam Nussbaum and Elvin Jones. In his wide-ranging career he has worked with everyone from guitarist Birelli Lagrene to percussionist Manolo Badrena, from pianist Lee Shaw to bassist Victor Bailey and the group Kilimanjaro. He started the Darren Lyons Group at the Knitting Factory in 1996 and the band has worked steadily ever since.
Evil Genius teams Lyons with guitarist Chad McLoughlin, both Mark Adamy and David Starck on keyboards, electric bassist Skip Ward and, on four of the eight selections, Manolo Badrena joins on percussion. Keyboardist David Sancious, who produced the project, sits in during "Clean."
The quintet/sextet performs eight numbers, all of which were written or co-composed by McLoughlin. Darren Lyons is heard throughout in a supportive role, preferring to drive the band, make the music funky, and add rhythmic excitement rather than be showcased as a soloist.
From the start, it is obvious that the group is tight and adept at both being funky and swinging. While much of the music is quite danceable, the playing is never simplistic and is filled with subtle creativity within the genre of fusion. In fact, a lot of the music is a logical extension of 1970s fusion (the prime period for the idiom) with hints of Chick Corea and Miles Davis' groups. However the soloists and the sound of the ensemble are not at all derivative of their predecessors.
McLoughlin and the two keyboardists get plenty of solo space, many of the originals have catchy themes, and Lyons' rhythms hold the ensembles together, inspire the lead voices and are infectious. From the medium-tempo strut "Light In The Dark" to the bluish "Defreshinizer," the dark and mysterious "Murky Brown" to the eccentric "Mobius Striptease," the music always holds onto one's interest.
On Evil Genius, the Darren Lyons Group succeeds in creating high-quality fusion for the 21st century.
-- Scott Yanow,(2010) Author of ten books including: "The Jazz Singers,"
"Trumpet Kings," "Jazz on Record: 1917-76" and "Jazz on Film"