Lyle Mays at the horizons of jazz with & without Pat Metheny

July 1986 by Ted Greenwald for Keyboard


The rise of the Pat Metheny Group as one of the preeminent and classiest electric ensembles is well documented. Guitarist Metheny's charismatic stage manner and creative guitar-work have dominated the band's image since its inception. Less known, but no less significant to the group's sound and success is Metheny's alter-ego, multi-keyboardist Lyle Mays. Since their first recorded collaboration, Watercolors, Mays' rippling keyboard leads and Tynerish orchestral chordings have provided the detailed chambers for Metheny's reverberant guitar.

In a genre dominated by yowling, pitch-bending synthesizer solos, Mays has found his own voice. He mixes acoustic and electronic colors and timbres into a rich, swirling broadcloth of sound. As the group has matured and as Mays has come to co-write most of the group's material, he's been relying on synthesizers more and more to flesh out his arrangements. On the 20-minute epic collaboration with Metheny As Falls Wichita, so Falls Wichita Falls, he creates a chamber symphony, layering synthesized textures and environments to form a stream-of-consciousness dreamscape.

Though he surrounds himself with musical technology, including the 1981 addition of the Synclavier (an advanced computerized synthesizer), Mays still falls back on the acoustic piano when he really wants to get loose. "The piano is the instrument that I grew up playing," he says during a backstage interview following a Metheny Group concert, "and that's the instrument that I feel most comfortable with. I play piano 90 percent of the time on-stage. I feel that I can express myself much better on piano; the piano is a more expressive instrument at this point in time. After all, the piano has been around for centuries, and synthesizers are just starting to be developed and refined."

Mays, born in 1953, is a member of ...

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