Darren Lyons, a well-respected drummer based in New York, leads both acoustic and electric jazz bands. Evil Genius features the latter, an ensemble that has been together for over nine years.
Lyons started drum lessons when he was just four. Among his teachers while growing up were Peter Erskine, Adam Nussbaum and Elvin Jones. In his wide-ranging career he has worked with everyone from guitarist Birelli Lagrene to percussionist Manolo Badrena, from pianist Lee Shaw to bassist Victor Bailey and the group Kilimanjaro. He started the Darren Lyons Group at the Knitting Factory in 1996 and the band has worked steadily ever since.
Evil Genius teams Lyons with guitarist Chad McLoughlin, both Mark Adamy and David Starck on keyboards, electric bassist Skip Ward and, on four of the eight selections, Manolo Badrena joins on percussion. Keyboardist David Sancious, who produced the project, sits in during "Clean."
The quintet/sextet performs eight numbers, all of which were written or co-composed by McLoughlin. Darren Lyons is heard throughout in a supportive role, preferring to drive the band, make the music funky, and add rhythmic excitement rather than be showcased as a soloist.
From the start, it is obvious that the group is tight and adept at both being funky and swinging. While much of the music is quite danceable, the playing is never simplistic and is filled with subtle creativity within the genre of fusion. In fact, a lot of the music is a logical extension of 1970s fusion (the prime period for the idiom) with hints of Chick Corea and Miles Davis' groups. However the soloists and the sound of the ensemble are not at all derivative of their predecessors.
McLoughlin and the two keyboardists get plenty of solo space, many of the originals have catchy themes, and Lyons' rhythms hold the ensembles together, inspire the lead voices and are infectious. From the medium-tempo strut "Light In The Dark" to the bluish "Defreshinizer," the dark and mysterious "Murky Brown" to the eccentric "Mobius Striptease," the music always holds onto one's interest.
On Evil Genius, the Darren Lyons Group succeeds in creating high-quality fusion for the 21st century.
-- Scott Yanow,(2010) Author of ten books including: "The Jazz Singers,"
"Trumpet Kings," "Jazz on Record: 1917-76" and "Jazz on Film"