Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019

by Ian Mann

March 25, 2011


A remarkably mature debut from the prodigiously talented thirteen year old guitarist Andreas Varady.

Andreas Varady & David Lyttle


(Lyte Records LR002)

There seems to be quite a buzz building recently about the prodigiously talented thirteen year old guitarist Andreas Varady. The talented teenager has just become the youngest person ever to headline a session at the world famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London.

Born in Slovakia to a Hungarian gypsy family in 1997 Andreas took up the guitar at four, learning the instrument from his father Bandi who appears as rhythm guitarist on this, his son’s début recording. The Varady family moved to Ireland in 2008 and young Andreas quickly earned himself a reputation by attending jazz workshops and busking on the streets of Limerick.

Andreas subsequently made on line contact with Belfast based drummer and percussionist David Lyttle, the co-leader of this date and on whose label this album appears. The quartet line-up on “Questions” is completed by double bassist Michael Janisch, a player who brings with him an energy and conviction that is an asset to any project.

Lyttle kindly gave me a copy of this album last year when his “Dark Tales” group played at Dempsey’s in Cardiff (a show reviewed elsewhere on this site). My apologies to him for not getting around to covering it sooner but the way young Master Varady’s career is taking off he needs precious little help from me!

The combination of the instrumentation plus Andreas’ gypsy heritage might suggest that his principle influence would be Django Reinhardt but although the quartet do fleetingly tackle one Reinhardt number young Andreas draws greater inspiration from the likes of Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Joe Pass. The selection of material on “Questions” reflects this with many of the tunes being sourced from the bebop repertoire. However the programme also includes a couple of originals from the pen of the young prodigy, suggesting that even greater things lie ahead.

A word here too for Lyttle, a tireless presence on the Irish jazz scene and also a talented musician in the Irish folk tradition. Like his friend Janisch, Lyttle is a great organiser and facilitator and he is to be congratulated for putting this session together. The quartet is not a regular working group and it’s a credit to the skill of all the players involved that they were able to record an album of this quality in a single afternoon having only worked together as a quartet on one previous occasion. 

The album begins with an Andreas Varady original “A Day In New York”, written following a visit to the Skidmore Jazz College in New York funded by the Arts Council of Ireland. Written when Varady was twelve it shows a clear George Benson influence but possesses an attractive melody and shows great promise. Andreas’ remarkable chops are evident from the outset and the three older musicians offer subtly grooving rhythmic support with some enjoyable drum fills from co-leader Lyttle. A good start. 

“Donna Lee”, credited here to Miles Davis but invariably associated with Charlie Parker, is a good test for any nascent young musician and Andreas passes with flying colours, his sparkling guitar runs matched by the muscular but highly dexterous bass of Janisch as the pair exchange phrases. There’s a palpable sense of joie de vivre about the playing here.

Andreas’ other original “Blues For Edward” does pretty much what it says on the tin. The rhythm team ensure it swings mightily as Andreas once again displays his already hugely impressive technique, reminiscent here of Montgomery and Kenny Burrell. There are also delightful cameos from Janisch and Lyttle.

“Festival 48” is a duet between Andreas and his father Bandi, a joyous romp through an old Django Reinhardt number handed down through the family by osmosis. They didn’t even know the title until this recording demanded a bit of research (by BBC “Jazz Records Requests” presenter Geoffrey Smith, among others).

The first of two David Lyttle originals “True Story” pairs Andreas’ subtly blues inflected guitar with a reggae groove. It’s rather better than the precept might suggest and includes a major feature for the composer.

The quartet’s version of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is genuinely innovative, slowed down and given a relaxed samba feel with Lyttle playing his kit solely with his hands. Andreas’ lines are lithe and slippery and there’s a warmly resonant solo from Janisch at the bass.   

Lyttle’s second contribution with the pen, “Swing Thing”, surges along boppishly with yet more dazzling fretwork from Andreas and with plenty of room for the co-leader to assert his presence in a series of busy but impressive drum breaks.

The version of “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” is the only less than satisfactory item, sometimes straying a little too close to lounge jazz for my liking. With Andreas adopting a more rounded guitar tone his sound loses some of the crispness to be heard elsewhere. Overall the piece lacks the snap and crackle that distinguishes the rest of the album.

The album closes with Andreas playing a solo version of Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow Of Your Smile” as arranged by George Benson. It’s a remarkably mature performance and closes the album on a pleasingly elegiac note.

As impressive as Lyttle and Janisch are this is really Andreas Varady’s album. He displays astonishing technique for one so young throwing in complex chording, dazzling single note lines and Montgomery style octaves. Even more remarkable is his maturity and feel for the music, despite his precocious talent one never gets the sense that he’s showing off. His solos are constructed with a logic that defies his years and in an “invisible jukebox” situation you’d swear that it was a far older guitarist playing. Indeed there’s a refreshingly “old school” feel to this recording with Andreas adopting a crisp, clean guitar sound with the minimum of trickery and with the whole album being completed in a single session. There’s an unpretentious sense of fun evident throughout.

If Andreas Varady maintains this level of progress then the sky’s the limit for him, especially given his early promise as a composer. I’m already regretting not taking the opportunity to go and see him when he played locally only very recently. I didn’t believe anybody that young could be that good. This album happily proves me wrong with the sheer youthfulness of it’s young star justifying its elevation to an entry in the coveted “Jazzmann Recommends” list.

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