The sweetest vintage
From the Summer 2003 issue.
Land of Giants
By McCoy Tyner
Telarc Records: 2003
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner is one of those quiet figures who lends the music both its mystery and its soul. Tyner is a cat whose name still conjures up memories and images from the '50s, one of those pioneers you vaguely know you're supposed to be hip to but haven't gotten around to checking out.
And he's all of those things and more: a man who held the piano chair in John Coltrane's quartet during the late saxophonist's most influential and successful period. And he's also still with us, still performing and growing and pushing.
His latest disc shows that Tyner is no museum piece; if not a publicity-generating headliner like his contemporary Oscar Peterson, he remains a giant of his instrument, one of the very best to tackle improvisational American music from the piano.
It is, perhaps, due to the contemplative nature of his music that Tyner has always been a below the radar kind of star. His music isn't loud or showy; it's formidable power comes from elsewhere. And he doesn't demand the spotlight; even on his own recordings, such as this one, "Land of Giants," Tyner shares the spotlight as organically, naturally as he plays.
It's apparently just who he is: a quiet, unassuming man who plays some of the most sophisticated jazz piano on the face of the earth. Tyner provides the same combination of support and challenge when playing behind Bobby Hutcherson's vibes on this date as he did for Coltrane.
If you're playing with Tyner, he's your best friend musically like your closest Little League buddy, there to support you and help you, but never let you give less than your best; you start slacking, he'll quietly show you up, let you know that it's not acceptable.
Running through a set of seven originals and three standards, the band of Tyner, Hutcherson, bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Eric Harland turns out some sterling straight-ahead jazz. Hutcherson and Tyner swap the leads throughout, although both Moffett and Harland get plenty of solos, too.
Hearing music of this caliber is one of life's sweetest treats; Tyner's vintage continues to improve. If you've not turned yourself on to his brand of magic yet, it's time to stop dawdling.
Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).