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McCoy Tyner

Reviewed on this page:
Inception - Today And Tomorrow - Plays Ellington - Tender Moments - Expansions - Time For Tyner - Asante - Sahara - Sama Layuca - Atlantis - Trident - Inner Voices - The Greeting - Looking Out - Love & Peace - Dimensions - Revelations - Journey - What The World Needs Now - McCoy Tyner And The Latin All-Stars - Land Of Giants

Forty-odd years after leaving the John Coltrane Quartet, holding down the piano in that fabled combo is still what McCoy Tyner's best known for, though he's released successful records in contexts from solo piano to big band to orchestra. Tyner has a singular tone on piano - as some other writer correctly noted, he's one of the few pianists you can identify from the first note - intense but not bombastic, introspective but not calm, more likely to play clustered chords than high melodic runs. A major influence on Eddie Palmieri among others. As a composer he's less impressive, and his experimentation can go awry, so his catalog is a bit spotty but worth investigating. Also, unlike many musicians of his era, Tyner still records and tours frequently, so keep your eyes open.

There's a handy Tyner sessionography that's worth a look. Alroy and I have seen him in concert, with phenomenal bassist Avery Sharpe, but I don't remember the show well enough to review it on our splendiferous concert reviews page. (DBW)

Coy McCoy

At the start of Tyner's solo career, he either stuck to standard small-combo jazz forms or recreated the modal majesty of his work with the Coltrane Quartet. (DBW)

Inception (1962)
A trio with fellow Coltrane associates Art Davis and Elvin Jones, and it often sounds surprisingly tentative given the dynamic lineup (title track). If you're not expecting fireworks, though, it's a very pleasant early 60s bop record: "There Is No Greater Love" is littered with clever runs, "Sunset" is a tender ballad, and Tyner's playing reveals a melodicism rarely seen to this extent until he started cutting piano-only albums in the 80s. Jones doesn't grandstand, giving evidence that he was adept in more styles than just his ferocious playing with Trane. (DBW)

Reaching Fourth (1963)
Another trio, with Henry Grimes (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums). (DBW)

Nights Of Ballads And Blues (1963)
And another trio lineup: bassist Steve Davis and drummer Lex Humphries. Includes Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's "Satin Doll" and Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight." (DBW)

Today And Tomorrow (1964)
A fairly conventional bop record, with a few modal structures Tyner picked up from the Quartet ("Contemporary Focus"). The sextet format has Thad Jones on trumpet, Frank Strozier and longtime Sun Ra sideman John Gilmore on sax, plus (depending on the track) either Butch Warren or Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones or Tootie Heath on drums. Only a couple of tunes are Tyner's ("Three Flowers"), with a few standards - "A Night In Tunisia," "Autumn Leaves" - and Thad Jones's "T 'N A Blues." The CD contains three bonus tracks in the same mold: "You'd Be So Nice To Come To," "Five Spot After Dark," and Tyner's "Flapstick Blues." Produced by Bob Thiele. (DBW)

Plays Ellington (1964)
The format for this tribute is piano-bass-drums (the Quartet minus Trane), supplemented on four tracks by two Latin percussionists: Willie Rodríguez, and future legend Johnny Pacheco. The Latin flavoring is generally superfluous (except on "Caravan," where it does seem appropriate), but the trio sounds great, comfortable with the familiar material yet reaching for something new. It helps that several of the tunes are relatively obscure ("Searchin'," which Duke never recorded himself; "Mr. Gentle And Mr. Cool"). The obvious comparison is Coltrane's 1962 album recorded with Ellington, and this record can't match that one for vigor, subtlety or star power. On the other hand, you could also compare it to Herbie Hancock's Inventions And Dimensions, recorded around the same time with similar instrumentation, and this record is far more elegant, focused and varied. The CD contains three bonus tracks: one alternate take, and two more Ellington classics ("It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)") rendered capably, but without any special flair. (DBW)

The Real McCoy (1967)
His first record after leaving the Quartet, containing "Contemplation." The players are Elvin Jones, Ron Carter (bass) and Joe Henderson (tenor). (DBW)

Tender Moments (1967)
A rhythm section plus six horns, ranging from tuba (Howard Johnson) to flute (James "Hooray For Captain" Spaulding). "Mode To John" is standard Tyner controlled fury, with drummer Joe Chambers capably impersonating Elvin Jones; "Utopia" is similar, with an unusual step-laddered horn arrangement. All the tunes are by Tyner, but not one is memorable ("The High Priest" is particularly dull), so the energy lacks direction. And when the tempo slows down, forget about it ("Man From Tanganyika"). Players include Lee Morgan (trumpet, featured on the straight bop "Lee Plus Three"), Bob Northern (French horn), Herbie Lewis (bass), Bennie Maupin and Julian Priester (sax and trombone). (DBW)

Expansions (1968)
Of the Tyner records I've heard, this is my favorite. The band isn't much bigger than on Today And Tomorrow, but the sound is a lot fuller, partly due to Tyner's use of unusual instrumentation: Ron Carter is featured on cello, soloing ably on "I Thought I'd Let You Know; Wayne Shorter appears on clarinet in addition to his usual tenor sax; Gary Bartz plays wood flute in addition to alto sax. It manages not to sound gimmicky, thanks to thoughtful, solid drumming by Freddie Waits and a coherent mood throughout. Tyner also uses space well, as on "Peresina" where he plays an extended vamp together with bassist Herbie Lewis while the horns fade in and out. All but one of the tunes are Tyner originals, varying in approach from the lyrical and low-key ("Song Of Happiness") to the festive ("Vision"). Meanwhile, the gorgeous "I Thought I'd Let You Know" is by Calvin Massey. Three of the five tracks are over ten minutes long, leaving plenty of room for the soloists (including Woody Shaw on trumpet). This record is rather hard to find, though it was supposedly rereleased just a couple of years ago - I have a bargain basement reissue with no personnel information or liner notes - and if you see a copy, grab it. (DBW)

Time For Tyner (1968)
A quartet with Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Lewis and Waits, and the material is three Tyner originals and three show tunes ("Surrey With The Fringe On Top"). The originals are top-notch, with more space and rhythmic interplay than Tyner usually leaves room for ("Little Madimba," with a wonderfully fluid Hutcherson); "African Village" moves from percussive explosions to a gentle bowed bass solo without ever losing its train of thought. The show tunes are more pedestrian ("I Didn't Know What Time It Was"), though the set ends with a playful solo Tyner deconstruction of "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face." (DBW)

Here Come The Seventies

Tyner got into serious experimentation at the dawn of the decade, exploring a panoply of non-Western instruments on compositions that were often quite lengthy, though resisting the electric instruments and fusion stylings that most popular jazzers pursued. By the time the Eighties rolled around, he was back to more concise tunes and did incorporate some electric bass, violin, and even guitar, though almost never in a recognizeably fusion format. (DBW)

Extensions (1970)
Features Alice Coltrane on harp plus Elvin Jones, Carter, and Shorter. (DBW)

Asante (1971)
This small combo effort is caught in a Catch-22: the mild experimentation (Mtume on percussion in addition to drummer Billy Hart, Songai Sandra Smith adding wordless, high-pitched vocals, Ted Dunbar on electric guitar) is mostly just distracting, but if you take away the experimentation the record's just flat. There are four long tunes - all by Tyner - and they all have their moments (particularly the title tune) but all drag at times, especially "Goin' Home," where the repetition of Buster Williams' bass vamp and Dunbar's funk-style guitar lick is mind-numbing. There is variety here within Tyner's comfort zone: "Fulfillment" is a fast-paced, Quartet-type tune with saxophonist Andrew White (a music scholar who published a book of Coltrane transcriptions) doing his best to imitate Trane's rapid "sheets of sound" approach, and "Malika" has the slow-paced mysticism of a religious chant. (DBW)

Sahara (1972)
Though it's overly experimental in early 70s fashion, this is a good record for the uninitiated, because it captures Tyner playing in a wide range of styles. The opening "Ebony Queen" is Tyner in turbulent mode, crashing the keys while he and Sonny Fortune (on soprano sax) state the dramatic theme. Then on "A Prayer For My Family" he's unaccompanied and tender. On "Valley Of Life" he plays the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument not heard much in Western music - if nothing else, it's a change of pace. "Rebirth" is more of the thunder that made him famous; the 23-minute title track is a rambling work that alternates sections with the entire band playing reeds, then the entire band playing percussion, then playing their standard instruments. There are great moments (usually when people are playing the instruments they actually know how to play), but it doesn't hold your interest consistently. The rhythm section is Calvin Hill and Alphonse Mouzon. (DBW)

Song For My Lady (1972)
Players include Fortune, Hill, Mouzon, Charles Tolliver, Michael White and Mtume. Includes a new version of "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes." (DBW)

Song Of The New World (1973)
A big band with (among others) Jon Faddis (trumpet), Hubert Laws (flute), Joony Booth (bass), Virgil Jones, Cecil Bridgewater, Garnett Brown, Dick Griffin, Julius Watkins, Bob Stewart, Sonny Morgan, Fortune and Mouzon. The material is mostly new but does include "Afro Blue" from the Coltrane years. (DBW)

Echoes Of A Friend (1973)
Solo piano, and the music is either by Coltrane ("Naima," "My Favorite Things") or inspired by him. (DBW)

Enlightenment (1973)
A live recording with Azar Lawrence (sax), Booth and Mouzon. Most of the material is new, such as the three-part "Enlightenment" suite and the twenty-five minute "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit." (DBW)

Sama Layuca (1974)
An octet featuring Lawrence, John Stubblefield and Gary Bartz on saxes and flute, Hutcherson on vibes and marimba; Buster Williams and Billy Hart, bass and drums; and Mtume and Guilherme Franco, percussion. The usual crashing modal mayhem is abundant on "La Cubana" and the title track, with the horns and percussion adding depth and texture. And this time the slow numbers are just as good: there's a delicate duet with Hutcherson, "Above The Rainbow," and the wonderfully arid sound painting "Desert Cry." The least accessible cut is also the longest - the sixteen-minute "Paradox" - but it's no disaster, and by the time it comes along, you've already gotten your money's worth. (DBW)

Atlantis (1974)
A high-energy double live LP with Lawrence sounding quite Trane-like on sax, Joony Booth playing funky vamps on acoustic bass, and Wiley Fletcher and Franco on boisterous drums and percussion. The heart of the album is three very long tracks - "Love Samba," "Makin' Out" and the 18-minute "Atlantis" - and they're all solidly entertaining, with everyone in the band soloing at length over thunderous percussion (including Tyner's piano). Much of the shorter stuff is well done, too ("My One And Only Love" with particularly powerful soloing from Lawrence). But the material is often not as good as the performances, with some of the tunes built on unimaginative riffs ("Love Samba," "Pursuit"). Also, at times Tyner grandstands: the melody and mood of "In A Sentimental Mood" are squelched by his endless, impersonal fast runs up and down the keyboard, and his "Atlantis" solo is more of the same. Produced by Orrin Keepnews. (DBW)

Trident (1975)
While most of his compatriots had delved into fusion by this point, Tyner was hanging tough with acoustic jazz. Unfortunately this record is a bore, despite the all-star cast (Ron Carter and Elvin Jones). This time, Tyner's nod to experimentation is his use of harpsichord and celeste, but he can't think of anything constructive to do with them, so all he does is state the theme at the beginning of each piece, then switch to his usual piano. He has the power to impress with simple musical lines, but this time he pushes it too far, basing his three compositions on riffs so basic I'd be ashamed to use them ("Celestial Chant"). Things go better on the covers, which include Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Once I Loved," Trane's "Impressions," and Monk's "Ruby My Dear." But engineer Jim Stern miked Carter so closely that you hear more string scraping and extraneous noise than actual musical notes, and Tyner can't find much to say, leaving it up to Jones to save the day. He does his best, adding rhythmic interest on every tune and crafting a moving solo on his feature, "Elvin (Sir) Jones." Produced by Orrin Keepnews. (DBW)

Fly With The Wind (1976)
With Hubert Laws, Billy Cobham, Ron Carter, and a string section. (DBW)

Focal Point (1976)
The players are Joe Ford (winds), Charles Fambrough (bass), Franco, Bartz, Ron Bridgewater, and Eric Kamau Gravatt (drums). (DBW)

Supertrios (1977)
Two rhythm sections: Carter and Tony Williams, or Eddie Gomez (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums). (DBW)

Inner Voices (1977)
Five longish compositions, all by Tyner, in high-energy bombast mode. The leader's solos are frequently thrilling ("Rotunda"), while his mellow introduction to "Festival In Bahia" is lovely, and three tracks make good use of a large horn section (tenor Alex Foster gets most of the solos). It's even nice to hear EZ-listening guitarist Earl Klugh where he's a side dish rather than the main course. There's just one problem, but it's a fatal one: on every tune except the swaggering, brassy "Uptown," a vocal chorus states the theme with the blandest "la la la"s you ever heard, and won't shut up. Totally ruins the record: if the record was remixed without the vocals, it would get another star easy. (DBW)

The Greeting (McCoy Tyner Sextet: 1978)
A live sextet recording. Most of the material is new to me, and it's fun: the opening "Hand In Hand" has the disarming grace of a lullaby, while the 15-minute "Fly With The Wind" is a suite building from a lovely flute duet (by Fambrough and George Adams, who also play saxes during the performance) to a crashing climax before ending with a tender solo Tyner dénouement. Throughout, the wind players are a light complement to the crashing rhythm section, which includes Ford, Franco, and Sonship (Woody Theus) on drums & percussion. The only real letdown is Tyner's solo feature, Coltrane's "Naima," where he changes course after a quiet opening and indulges himself with rapid-fire note cascades that don't seem to have much to do with the tune. Fortunately, the gripping title track brings you back to the edge of your seat. Not nearly as breath-taking or original as Tyner's capable of being, but well worth checking out. (DBW)

Together (1978)
Personnel includes Freddie Hubbard, Maupin, Laws, Hutcherson, Bill Summers, Stanley Clarke, and Jack DeJohnette. Titles include a rerecording of "Song For Aisha." (DBW)

Horizon (1980)
The special guest this time out is violinist John Blake, who contributes two tunes ("Woman Of Tomorrow"; "Motherland") and consumes a ton of solo space. The rest of the group is Joe Ford and George Adams on winds, Al Foster and Franco on drums and percussion, and Fambrough on bass. Fambrough wrote "One For Honor"; the other two songs are by Tyner (title track). (DBW)

Quartets 4x4 (1980)

Looking Out (1982)
Tyner went fusion in a big way, with a supergroup made up of Carlos Santana, Stanley Clarke, Gary Bartz, drummer Buddy Williams and on three tracks, Philly Soul vocalist Phyllis Hyman. No one compromises - Tyner busts out a brusque solo on Santana's galloping "Hannibal"; Santana wails on the mellow R&B "Love Surrounds Us Everywhere"; Hyman drops overwrought affectations over acerbic Clarke and Tyner vamps on "In Search Of My Heart" - so the result is a curious patchwork. For extra randomness, "Island Birdie" is pure unadulterated calypso. The vocal R&B tunes are unrewarding, not only because I'm not a Hyman fan (her deep-voiced vacuosity paved the way for Anita Baker) but because the compositions aren't impressive ("I'll Be Around"), and it's a shame that Bartz stays way out of the spotlight. So except when Tyner or Santana are cutting loose - "Señor Carlos" isn't just a backdrop for a terrific guitar solo (though it is that), it's also a complex, high-spirited tune - the record is more surprising than entertaining. (DBW)

Love & Peace (Elvin Jones - McCoy Tyner Quintet: 1982)
Tyner reunited with Jones and fellow Trane sideman Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax), plus Richard Davis (bass) and Jean-Paul Bourelly on guitar. By now Sanders had abandoned the squealing of his 60s work, and sounds much like Trane: he's surest on the ballad "Sweet And Lovely," and elsewhere his tone is more impressive than his note choices ("Hip Jones"). At center stage, Jones is as rambunctious as ever, leaping from tension-building swells to unexpected accents ("For Tomorrow"). Bourelly is the wild card, as his processed guitar is mostly out of place ("Little Rock's Blues") but definitely keeps the proceedings from getting too predictable. With all this going on, Tyner seems content to lay low, putting forth some pretty solos ("Korrina") and solid backing, but rarely exerting the authority you'd expect from a co-leader. (DBW)

Dimensions (1983)
A quintet date with Blake, Bartz, John Lee (electric bass) and Wilby Fletcher (drums). Blake's electric violin adds a fresh touch without becoming overbearing as it had on Horizon, while Lee's bass cuts through the mix and lends urgency to the proceedings. Two standards are performed by Tyner using a tasty stride style I've never before heard from him ("Just In Time" and Duke's "Prelude To A Kiss," unaccompanied). The songwriting, though, could be stronger. Tyner's "One For Dea" is exhilarating, but it's the only track he wrote, and the other bandmembers' contributions are hit and miss: Bartz's Monk tribute "Uncle Bubba" is a dissonant delight, but "Understanding" (by Lee) and Blake's "Precious One" are an uncomfortable mix of modal jazz and smooth R&B cliché. (DBW)

Double Trios (1986)
Half the tracks feature Marcus Miller (bass), Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums) and Steve Thornton (percussion); the other half have bassist Avery Sharpe, drummer Louis Hayes and Thornton. Both seem more like quartets than trios, but who am I to criticize? (DBW)

Bon Voyage (1987)

Tyner The Jazz Historian

Since the mid-80s, Tyner has looked back, alternating between big bands and small combos, and recording more pop or jazz standards (often by Trane or Monk) than new material. (DBW)

Uptown/Downtown (1988)
Big band, featuring Howard Johnson, John Clark, Steve Turre, Robin Eubanks, Virgil Jones, Earl Gardner, Kamau Adilifu, Ricky Ford, Junior Cook, Joe Ford, Doug Harris, Sharpe, Hayes and Thornton. All Tyner originals except for Turre's "Lotus Flower." (DBW)

Live At Sweet Basil (1989)
Tyner with bassist Sharpe and drummer Aaron Scott. Most of the tunes are either hoary standards ("Darn That Dream") or by either Trane ("Naima") or Monk ("'Round Midnight"). (DBW)

Revelations (1989)
Why do I keep reviewing solo piano records when I already know I don't care for them? Well, I keep thinking someday I'll develop more depth, or a longer attention span, or something. In any case, Tyner does make an effort to keep it interesting, spicing up the generally lyrical fare (Ellington's sly "In A Mellow Tone") with a couple of boisterous jaunts (Tyner's "Peresina"), and playing with verve and intelligence. Most of the tunes are standards ("How Deep Is The Ocean," "Autumn Leaves"), with five by Tyner including two new compositions: the pensive "View From The Hill" and the more lively "Rio." The one Coltrane composition is one I wasn't familiar with, "Lazybird." I mostly listen to Tyner for the fireworks, but there's more to him than that - if you're not solo piano-averse, you might want to check this out. (DBW)

Things Ain't What They Used To Be (1989)

Just Feelin (1990)

Double Exposure (1991)

New York Reunion (1991)
With Joe Henderson, Carter and drummer Al Foster. (DBW)

Remembering John (1991)
Yep, a Trane tribute album: "India," "Giant Steps," "The Wise One," plus Monk's "In Walked Bud." A trio date with Sharpe and Scott. (DBW)

Blue Bossa (1991)
A quartet with trumpeter Claudio Roditi, Scott and Sharpe. (DBW)

Soliloquy (1991)
Solo piano, including several Trane compositions - "Lonnie's Lament," "Crescent," "After The Rain" - and standards ("Willow Weep For Me"). (DBW)

Turning Point (1991)
Big band featuring many of the same names as Uptown/Downtown. The set list runs from Tyner standards ("Fly With The Wind") to Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood." The recording wrapped up a busy year in the studio for Mr. Tyner. (DBW)

Journey (McCoy Tyner Big Band: 1993)
Tyner shows that he's adept at scoring for big band, with shifting, subtle arrangements both on swing ("Choices") and on mellow mood pieces (Turre's "Juanita"). Most of the tunes are long but rarely predictable: only a re-recording of "Peresina" sounds like a small-band composition re-arranged for big-band, and even that's still powerful. Just one other tune is Tyner's - "Blues On The Corner" - but he manages to personalize the material despite the large cast (Sharpe's lovely "January In Brasil"). Coy vocals by Diane Reeves on "You Taught My Heart To Sing" make that tune the one dud. Slide Hampton also guests, playing trombone on "Samba Del Ber"; otherwise, it's largely the same band as Uptown/Downtown. (DBW)

Manhattan Moods (McCoy Tyner & Bobby Hutcherson: 1994)

Prelude And Sonata (McCoy Tyner Super Group: 1994)
The "Super Group" is Joshua Redman, Antonio Hart, Christian McBride and Marvin "Smitty" Smith, and the set list includes Chopin and Beethoven ("Piano Sonata No. 78") in addition to more standard fare (Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes"). (DBW)

What's New (1995)

Infinity (McCoy Tyner Trio featuring Michael Brecker: 1995)
Tyner has an elastic definition of "trio," I'll give him that: in addition to Brecker, Sharpe and Scott, the lineup also includes percussionist Waltinho Anastacio. (DBW)

Live In Warsaw (1995)
Solo piano. (DBW)

What The World Needs Now (1997)
Oh, I'm not so sure of that. For this set of Burt Bacharach songs, Tyner's trio - McBride on bass, Lewis Nash on drums - is joined by a full symphony orchestra. As usually happens in these situations, the orchestra dominates, frequently drowning out the rhythm section, and bringing the result dangerously close to muzak. Though many of Bacharach's great compositions have fallen into neglect, Tyner picked only huge hits for this project: "(They Long To Be) Close To You," "Alfie," "(There's) Always Something There To Remind Me." Though beautifully recorded and carefully arranged (by John Clayton), the end result is just dull. Produced by Tommy LiPuma. (DBW)

McCoy Tyner And The Latin All-Stars (1999)
Tyner's first full-on Latin jazz outing, with a cast that's big-name if not exactly all-star: Gary Bartz (sax), Dave Valentín (flute), Steve Turre (trombone), Sharpe (bass), Roditi (trumpet), and percussionists Johnny Almendra, Giovanni Hidalgo and Ignacio Berroa. Most tunes are structured so that the leader and one guest each take an extended solo (Turre's sympathetic turn on Tyner's "A Song For Love"), but the players don't make the most of the opportunity... Valentín in particular doesn't do much except some gimmicky scat singing with the same column of air that's fueling the flute (is there a technical term for that?). As usual, I prefer Tyner's thunderous side (an extended "Festival In Bahia," originally from Inner Voices) to his takes on ballads, which can be generic ("Poinciana," by Nat Simon and Buddy Bernier), but all the arrangements have their points of interest. Three tunes are Tyner's ("La Habana Sol," based on a very simple theme), while the other four come from various sources (Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue," a Coltrane Quartet staple; Sharpe's intriguing "We Are Our Fathers' Sons"; Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa," which Tyner had recorded in 1991). (DBW)

Land Of Giants (2003)
A quartet recording, with Hutcherson, Charnett Moffett (bass), and Eric Harland (drums). Mostly Tyner originals, with a few standards: Ellington's "In A Mellow Tone"; Loesser's "If I Were A Bell"; "For All We Know." (DBW)

Four out of five jazz reviewers recommend Trident.

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