Bobby Lyle

Joyful

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This master of the elegant funk tune launched a promising solo career in the late '70s, long before the term "smooth jazz" was coined, then hit again in the late '80s and early '90s with a series of hits on Atlantic. Bobby Lyle has been out of the loop in that radio format for a few years, but pianist/Three Keys Music founder Marcus Johnson -- a big fan from childhood -- had the insight to sign the versatile Lyle on to help launch his new label of music best described as "metropolitan smooth." No doubt Lyle's old fan base would have come out of the woodwork to support a recording with 13 fresh tracks that range from radio friendly to wild, jamming, and improvisational, but a little big-name support couldn't hurt. Fortunately, Lyle doesn't let his popular cohorts overshadow the melodic foundations of his keyboards and acoustic piano. He enjoys doubling with Norman Brown's crisp guitar licks on the easy funk of "Give Me Your Heart," then going to the high register for a few extra notes. The song plays like a laid-back conversation between old pals. "Rain Walkin" is a bright and bouncy retro-soul piece that also plays like happy chatter between Lyle's catchy melody and Peter White's responsive acoustic guitar harmony. Lyle jumps squarely into the new millennium groovewise on the chunky "Spankin," whose melody harks back to his early days via Fender Rhodes. He plays all the verses, then joins with Rick Braun's trumpet and Gerald Albright's sax for a jamming, percussive chorus. The same trio effect works well on the more lighthearted acoustic piano jaunt "Millennium Dance," which features a unique call and response by Lyle's own high- and low-register lines. Not that he needs cover tunes, but his take on Sade's "Sweetest Taboo" is fairly sensual, though less thoughtful than "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" Bridging today's pop scene with his own history (his 1977 debut was called The Genie), he can't resist a feisty, blues-drenched romp through Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle," featuring a few bars of Middle Eastern exotica and Everette Harp on sax and EWI.

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