Friday, January 18, 2008


NEW YORK -- When pianist and composer McCoy Tyner became a presence on the modern jazz scene in the early-to-mid-1960s -- with John Coltrane's quartet and as a stellar Blue Note Records artist -- his profound musicianship took listeners by storm.
Numerous attributes made Tyner, who opened a six-night stint Tuesday at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village, a lasting influence. Among them, his innovative use of wide intervals that gave jazz a fresh sound; his delicate-to-pile-driver touch, producing gauzy filigrees to massive chords; his formidable solos, which ran from alluring melody to provocative angularity; and his compositions, many now part of the jazz repertoire.

"The Real McCoy" -- made for Blue Note in 1967 with tenorman Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Elvin Jones at Rudy Van Gelder's in Englewood Cliffs -- characterized Tyner's prowess. In the first set Tuesday, he revisited two classics from that recording -- "Search for Peace" and "Blues on the Corner" -- that also appear on his latest CD, "Quartet" (McCoy Tyner Music).

Tyner played with tenorman Joe Lovano, a longtime colleague who is on "Quartet," and his regular trio partners, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt. And while the leader -- a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Fellowship recipient whose Web site is -- is not the dynamo he was back in the day, he comes pretty close.

And that is taking into account not only the passing years -- he is now 69 -- but recent bouts of serious illness -- of which he has not spoken publicly, but whose impact is obvious. The toll that time and ill health have taken was revealed Tuesday in his substantial weight loss; in the softness of his raspy-voiced, friendly emcee announcements; and in the slight, aesthetically unimportant, diminution of his formerly stunning technique. Despite all these, Tyner still performed with deep musicality and feeling.

One number that exemplified his continued artistic vitality was his "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit," a 1970s piece that's also on "Quartet." The number is built on a driving left hand piano figure that Cannon picked up, and to which Gravatt added an invigorating beat. After Lovano's engaging theme rendition, and Cannon's big-noted solo, Tyner improvised. He played small, dashing figures, and some similarly conceived, but slower. He played off-the-beat 10-finger chordal passages, and he hit some of his idiosyncratic, resounding left-hand chords. These start with his hand at least a foot above the keyboard before it descends in a swoop, like a hawk after prey, making the piano roar. In his subsequent solo, Lovano mixed abstraction and tunefulness.

The leader was also powerful on the opening trio number, the Latin-tinged "Angelina." At points, he whammed his left hand down, that rumble setting up glowing right-hand notes. At other points, he laid out contrasting melodies in both hands. "Fly Like the Wind" and "Blues on the Corner," with its catchy theme, were two more where Tyner delivered vibrant, rhythmically charged essays.

The tender "Search for Peace" was a perfect complement to the general high energy of the set. Lovano's reading of the lovely theme emphasized his emotive, singing sound; his solo, his ear for melodic grace. In his solo, Tyner was equally song-like.
Zan Stewart is the Star-Ledger's jazz writer. He is also a musician who occasionally performs at local clubs. He may be reached at or at (973) 324-9930.

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