A fresh and invigorating new voice on the smooth-jazz scene is saxophonist Neamen Lyles, pronounced Nee-Amen…with the accent on the A. Not only is his name memorable, but his style of contemporary jazz is uplifting and inspirational. Lyles comes from a well-schooled music background with an undergraduate degree in Jazz Performance from the University of Arizona, where he worked closely with the legendary Jeff Haskell.
The culmination of Lyles debut CD, So Free, also includes producer and Pop/jazz veteran Jay Soto (Nu Groove Records), who contributes guitar, keyboard tracks, and composed or co-wrote most of the material with Lyles. In addition to Soto, the recording features well established keyboardist Jeff Lorber (Heads Up International) and Brian Simpson (Shanachie), along with familiar star, electric bassist Mel Brown and more.
“Candy” kicks off the set with a grooving feel, co-written by Lyles and Soto, the cut features Lyles on alto sax and he gets right to the point, with quick arpeggios and soaring lines, Lyles certainly showcases his jazz sensibilities. This is definitely not elevator music, but instead deeply passionate contemporary jazz.
Another outstanding collaboration by Lyles and Soto is the title track “So Free.” Featuring a classic R&B feel, augmented by soulful vocalists David Lancette and Jodi Light who create vocal rhythmic lyric pads with answer and call sections by Lyles. Again, Lyles shows his ability to dig in and make his alto sear soulful lines into the listener’s ears. Lyles ability to musically flow on top of a melody and dig in at any given time is what set’s this young player apart from his contemporaries. His jazz studies definitely show through like a beacon. “Who Dat” adorns a gospel church feel in full swing.? This cut puts Lyles in the tenor sax seat. You can feel the congregation yell Hallelujah.
Taking the journey to a close, “Cooling the Plasma,” is a high energy romp with well-placed hits and solid drumming provide by Rayford Griffin this cut is right in the pocket. Special guest Jeff Lorber on Rhodes and the nimble fingers of Jay Soto on keyboards and programming it creates a perfect canvas for Lyles to springboard from, highlighting his highly developed technical skills and musicality.
This is what smooth-jazz was meant to be, there is no lack of musicality, muscle or technical prowess with Lyles, certainly one to watch and a player who could excel no matter the musical setting. A welcomed surprise and a must have for contemporary jazz listeners. Highly recommended and a sleeper surprise for 2011.
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