Photograph by Darrow Montgomery
Lionel Lyles has a clean, robust sound (with no small amount of muscle) on his tenor saxophone. He can chase punchy funk as tenaciously as he does loose swing, and in both pursuits he maintains a steady footing in lyricism. He writes his own material, he arranges standards, and he knows the jazz playbook. But above all, he’s hungry. Lyle’s arrival in D.C. last year was more like a full-scale invasion: He gigs in the clubs and in the bars, he sits in on other people’s gigs wherever he’s welcomed, and he hits seemingly every jam session and just plain hang. The last cat who worked this hard to make the scene was Elijah Balbed, who’s now in New York. Lyles might go even further.