"Straight and Smooth"

Three Keys Music

You can't please all of the people all of the time, especially in the notoriously fractious world of jazz, but what about half of the people half of the time? That's the approach keyboardist Bobby Lyle takes on "Straight and Smooth," a double CD that comes right out and asks: "What's your pleasure?"

Mainstream jazz fans will likely find the "Straight" disc both refreshing and revealing. After all, Lyle's success on the contemporary jazz charts has overshadowed his knack for reinvigorating pop and jazz standards in an acoustic setting. Along with bassist Brennen Nase and drummer Mark Simmons, Lyle kicks off the trio arrangements with a brisk, sunny and swinging interpretation of "The Song Is You" before moving on to other familiar tunes. Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti" is enhanced by the contrast between dark harmonic hues and shimmering cymbals. Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave" suggests the influence of Ahmad Jamal's trio work, particularly when Lyle's fingers begins to rhapsodize over the clattering pulse. Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," which alternates between swing and vamp, is awash with thematic variations, cascading flourishes and harmonic surprises. Another treat is Johnny Green's "Body and Soul," which finds Lyle alone at the piano at the start and toward the end of a genuinely distinctive arrangement. Lyle contributes four original pieces, including "Bop to Bach," a challenging, expansive and evocative celebration of keyboard genius.

The "Smooth" disc will receive far more airplay, however, since it sticks to a tried-and-true formula, complete with a steady procession of R&B backbeats and the occasional vocal. Lyle's flair for composing radio-geared melodies is frequently displayed, and his pop-jazz covers of R. Kelly's "Step in the Name of Love" and "I'm Going to Love You Just a Little More Baby" should delight his core audience.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Friday and Saturday at Blues Alley. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Bobby Lyle, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8108. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)