McCoy Tyner exudes magisterial authority, as though his musical declamations were etched in stone. Tyner’s home-grown vocabulary is crucial to the sound of the 21st century jazz narrative—his system of navigating harmony with fourth intervals has influenced countless pianists since the ’60s, and he continues his pioneering investigations into the rhythms and scales of Africa, Cuba, Brazil, and India as improvisational fodder, while not neglecting the chordal structures of the American Songbook. Then there’s his sound, resonant, drumlike, each note articulated with the soulful cadences of midcentury African-American church and blues culture. That said, when Tyner performs in middling company, as he has done on more than a few recordings, he can sound predictable, stylized, and tedious. But environments that include tonal personalities who inspire Tyner to sculpt in notes and tones with, as he once described it, “a controlled sense of experimentation” have produced some of his most inspired outings. One such is Guitars, on which the 70-year-old maestro and all-world bass-drum team Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette encounter guitar heroes Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Derek Trucks, and Marc Ribot, as well as banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck. The 14 pieces, primarily Tyner chestnuts, offer a study in contrasts — Scofield uncorks inflamed post-Coltrane lines; Trucks wails blues connotations; Frisell tells griotic stories with evocative timbre and patient beats; Fleck spins his with African-inflected percussive thrust; Ribot navigates the chords with astringent, gnarly cadences and persuades the leader to record, for the first time, two atonal duos. Tyner is completely engaged throughout, prodding his partners — an interactive DVD provides the back-story of each meeting — and responding to their postulations with implacable grace.
About the Author
Ted Panken writes extensively about jazz for various publications, including DownBeat and Jazziz, as well as the website www.jazz.com. He's presented it on WKCR-FM in New York City since 1985. He won the 2007 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for his article "Smalls Universe," published by DownBeat.