Bobby Lyle's success since the release of 1989's classic Ivory Dreams has been due chiefly to his astonishing ability to combine acoustic piano elegance with relentlessly funky grooves, always on the same album, often on the same cut. That album's juxtaposition of "Lush Life" and "Loco-motion" offers a great case in point. While Lyle draws brightly on tradition, he loves to go wild and urban any time he gets a chance, yet while most of his albums since then have been solid, he has never seemed to measure up to the promise of that auspicious debut. "Pianomagic," a collection of piano solos, in particular missed the mark. No such trouble these days. The subtitle of one of the feistier tracks on Lyle's endlessly electric Rhythm Stories "jazz hip-hop funky bebop, " perfectly summarizes the multi-faceted keyboardist's range and influences. On his most satisfying and eclectic outing to date, he alternates bass-driven soul that won't quit with artsier, romantic musings, fusing synergetic ensemble lightning with quieter reflections. When not limiting himself to his premier weapon, those magical 88s, he enjoys toying with a wide variety of keyboard sounds, most notably the organ effects on two dashing Stevie Wonder covers. "Higher Ground" and "Here We Go Again" offer a flair of familiarity, but are only two of the reasons to buy this genre-transcending collection. A melodic ace, Lyle saves his memorable hooks for slick ballads like "Exotic Love," while leaving ample openings on the jams for each member of his "who's who" ensemble room to expand, grow, whet their chops, etc. Jazz-meets-hip-hop projects usually possess a certain canned, synthetic production sheen about them, so Lyle also merits gold stars for the extraordinarily live sound he achieves blowing with every cat from Kirk Whalum and Gerald Albright to Marcus Miller and Stanley Clarke, among a cast of thousands. OK, why not mention a few more -- Everette Harp, Paul Jackson, Jr., Sonny Emory, and Peter White.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran