Reliability, Sensitivity, and Creativity
Drummer/percussionist Paul Lytton is one of those musicians who have
all of the earmarks of a subversive musical scout. He is reliable, dependable,
incredibly sensitive to different musical situations, and constantly
inventive, whether he uses his electric percussion or basic drum kit.
He constantly reinvents his playing while he nurtures his own formidable
One of the most outstanding new music piano trios in recent years is
Lytton’s trio with bassist Barry Guy and pianist Marilyn Crispell.
On their new disc, Ithaca (Intakt), Lytton rides the tides of Barry
Guy’s compositions, which in turn are stormy and “eye of
the hurricane” calm. Although much of the music is composed, there
is a lot of room for improvisation, and Lytton handles both with color
As Bill Shoemaker says in downbeat magazine, Lytton’s playing
is often “flinty” here, and this trait helps to add much
color and shading to Guy’s compositions. For example, on “Fire
and Ice,” which is in itself a roller-coaster ride, Lytton indeed
plays with fire in the raucous parts, but, with his use of sensitive
colors, never allows himself to overtake the music. In the slower, more
melodic parts, his punctuation and willingness to softly shade Marilyn
Crispell’s playing is the most subtle kind of power there is.
One of the reasons for Lytton’s involvement with Guy is his long-standing
trio with Guy and saxophonist Evan Parker. He has made many recordings
with this trio throughout the past 20 or so years, and his latest, although
actually a quintet with pianist Sten Sandell and guitarist David Stackenas
(both from Sweden), on Gubbröra (Psi), proves Lytton’s resourcefulness.
To meld with the colors of the unusual quintet with acoustic guitar
and piano, Lytton offers open high hats, brassy cymbals, and responses
that underlay the music instead of attempting to dominate it. To Lytton,
a drummer’s role is to compliment others as a team player. He
obviously does so here.
Last year, an illness in the family made it essential for Barry Guy
to bow out of a U.S. tour with the trio, so Evan Parker hired his long-time
friend and associate in the Schlippenbach Trio, pianist Alexander Von
Schlippenbach, to take Guy’s place for the tour in late 2003.
The resulting recording, America 2003 (Psi), again shows Lytton’s
inventiveness within a fresh setting.
As Lytton was a substitute for Schlippenbach Trio drummer Paul Lovens
in a late 1990’s tour, he already knows his role within this volatile
trio. Here, as Lovens would relentlessly drive the trio with a volley
of toms and sharp cymbal shadings, Lytton propels the music with an
almost swing feel, which compliments Schlippenbach’s Monk influence
throughout. Probably the most outstanding moment among many fine moments
is Lytton’s duo with Parker on “I Had a Friend Among the
Angels.” Here, Lytton underpins Parker’s formidable tenor
with flurries of skins, wood, and cymbals. The live recordings, which
are quite good for location recordings, show the strength of this great
Lytton can also acquit himself quite well with another drummer. One
of the last dates of the Parker/Schlippenbach/Lytton trio involved a
sextet with Peter Brötzmann’s trio with bassist William Parker
and drummer Hamid Drake at Victoriaville’s annual festival. Of
course, Brötzmann, Parker, and Schlippenbach together go back many
years. Therefore, artistic director Michel Levasseur’s idea made
for a welcome collaboration.
Although much of this disc, entitled The Bishop’s Move (Victo),
features each trio in bold relief, the moments with the double trio
often shine, as Lytton works underneath and through Drake, who, even
at his most free moments, can emit a beautiful earthy funkiness. This
wondrous contrast is perhaps best illustrated at around the 35-minute
mark in this glorious 73 minute improvisation.
Lytton’s first meeting with Norway’s Paal Nilssen-Love on
Ken Vandermark’s Map Theory (Okka Disk), a large “Territory
Band” outing, is amazing. The two really meld beautifully here,
whether it is on the Beefheartian moments on the first piece, “A
Certain Light”, or the twisted swing on “Towards Abstraction,”
which also features a rousing solo by trumpeter Axel Dörner. Lytton
has performed much with Vandermark now (with this ensemble, a duo, and
separate trios with Paul Lovens and Kent Kessler), and their association
has resulted in some fresh, inventive moments.
Paul Lytton continues to grow with his playing through middle age, and
there seems to be no end to the new ground he uncovers with each new
recording. According to Vandermark in his liner notes to Map Theory,
“Paul could be easily one of the major ‘free jazz’
drummers on the scene today, if he wanted.” It’s time to
give this brazen musical scout the solid credit that he has deserved
for quite some time now.
Russell Summers, November, 2004