Lyle Workman... Now that's a name that doesn't ring a bell with most people, or does it? Matter of fact, I knew this guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, because I happen to have his 1996 album Purple Passages in my collection. I bought it with a bunch of other CDs when some guy dissolved his collection. What initially intrigued me was the cover art, and of course the fact that among others Roger Powell of Utopia fame played the organ. My hunch wasn't wrong and the short review I wrote for this CD is as follows:
In contrary to my expectations Lyle Workman is not your typical guitar hero that races over the fretboard and dazzles us with his chops. Instead, we get music based in jazz-rock with classical, folk, country, and prog influences. The music is extremely playful. Lyle displays some very melodic guitar play - to give you an idea, Bygones sounds a bit like the more romantic parts by John Petrucci, but at other times I'm also reminded of Steve Morse.”
When I got this new album, Uncommon Measures, from our editor, I found out that I needed to do some more research. To my surprise I found out that probably many of us have been exposed to Workman's work before without knowing about it. Turns out that he is a successful movie soundtrack composer, having written music for blockbusters such as Superbad, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Get Him to the Greek, Yes Man and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Besides that, he was a member of the successful mid-1980s pop/rock group Bourgeois Tagg with whom he did two albums in 1986 and 1987 along with several singles. After that Workman worked as a session musician, working with famous names as Beck, Sting, Frank Black, Tony Williams, Ziggy Marley, Brian Adams and Todd Rundgren. And, digging through some internet sources, I found out that Workman did at least two more studio albums, Tabula Rasa from 2006 and Harmonic Crusader from 2009, both of which I quickly ordered but have not heard yet...
Anyway, the main interest of this review should be the new album, Uncommon Measures. This is a remarkable piece of work. Workman set out to fuse his various influences and experience together into this fully instrumental (although a choir does appear) album. The thing standing out, sound-wise, on the disc is the presence of a 63-piece orchestra captured live at famous Abbey Road Studios in London (you can see a few clips of this online!). The orchestra was conducted by John Ashton Thomas and features on all but two tracks of the album.
The combination of styles works very well. The main influences are definitely jazz-rock fusion on one hand and the orchestral parts that hover somewhere between orchestral soundtrack and romantic classical music (say, late 19th Century to give just a rough indication). In-between we find sprinkles of other styles. A tiny bit of country, a tad of progressive rock, some jazz, some rock.
Workman plays electric and acoustic guitar and contributes keyboards and for other instruments he invited a serious selection of class musicians, among which drummers Vinnie Colaiuta, Abe Laboriel Jr., and Toss Panos, bass player Tim Lefebvre, pianist Jeff Babko and over a dozen others.
I find it hard to single out specific tracks and I would say that the album is best to be savoured in one piece. However, I have noticed that I have grown especially fond of North Star, Noble Savage and Arc Of Life. Please check out the links below where you can get a glimpse of this great music. After that, get the album!
**** Carsten Busch (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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