by Phil Freeman
All this week, we’re reviewing every album pianist McCoy Tyner recorded between 1970 and 1979. (There were 19 of them.) Here’s Part 1 of our overview; here’s Part 2; and here’s Part 3.
Over the course of four days in April 1977, Tyner recorded a double album, Supertrios, with two different rhythm sections. On April 9 and 10, he worked with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams; on April 11 and 12, Eddie Gómez and Jack DeJohnette took their spots. Tyner wrote five of the 12 compositions, though two of them—”Blues on the Corner” and “Four by Five” were re-recordings of pieces from 1967’s The Real McCoy. The others were standards like Duke Ellington‘s “Prelude to a Kiss,” John Coltrane‘s “Moment’s Notice,” Billy Strayhorn‘s “Lush Life,” “Stella by Starlight,” and Thelonious Monk‘s “I Mean You.” It’s interesting to compare what Carter and Williams did here—aggressive, driving swing, with the drummer in assault-and-battery mode—with what they did two months later, backing Herbie Hancock at the sessions for Third Plane, also released on Milestone, and Herbie Hancock Trio, released by CBS/Sony, but only in Japan. Carter’s bass is almost offensively rubber-bandish on the Hancock album, and Williams’ playing displays a lighter touch, though he still can’t resist the occasional machine-gun snare fill. Similarly, Gómez and DeJohnette had worked together in Bill Evans‘ trio for a time in 1968, and they, too, tiptoed around more behind Evans. Tyner wanted a high-impact rhythm section, and he got one. The reworking of “Four by Five” is a perfect example. On the original recording, he was backed by Ron Carter and Elvin Jones, but the bouncing melody was carried by Joe Henderson’s tenor saxophone, and when the piece kicked off, Jones was doing a light dance on the cymbals, only rarely driving the beat home. On this new version, Tyner plays the opening fanfare faster, and slams his way across the keyboard, while DeJohnette is barely touching the cymbals at all, instead opting for high-speed kick-and-snare breakbeats with just a dash of hi-hat for punctuation.
Recorded over the course of a week (with three days off in the middle for Labor Day weekend) in September 1977, Inner Voices is a slightly weird album. Two of its five tracks feature a 12-piece horn section (four trumpets, four trombones, two alto saxes, one tenor sax and one baritone sax), while another offers just trumpet, trombone, alto, tenor, and flute; there are two different drummers (Eric Gravatt on two tracks, Jack DeJohnette on two others); and on four pieces, a seven-member vocal group sings wordlessly. The opening track has neither horns nor drums—it’s just Tyner, bassist Ron Carter, and the singers “la-la”-ing along. That’s all they do on the entire album, is pop up here and there “la-la”-ing through a melody a time or two. But other than that, the music is extremely high-energy—like, Buddy Rich-level—modal hard bop with big blasts of horn every once in a while. It’ll get your heart pumping for sure. Inner Voices is probably the least essential of this whole run of albums, because the vocalists are a failed experiment and the rest of the music isn’t distinct enough to overcome that factor. But it’s still far from disposable.
The Greeting is the first of three live albums Tyner recorded in 1978 (one of them, Counterpoints, wasn’t released until 2004, but we’ll be dealing with it in Part 5 of this series anyhow). It was taped at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on March 17 and 18, and the band includes Joe Ford on alto saxophone and flute; George Adams on tenor and soprano saxophones and flute; Charles Fambrough on bass; Woody “Sonship” Theus on drums; and Guilherme Franco on percussion. This was the first of Tyner’s 1970s live albums not to feature all new material. He revisited “Fly With the Wind,” from the album of the same name; “The Greeting,” from Supertrios; and John Coltrane’s “Naima.” There were two new compositions, though: the opening “Hand in Hand,” and “Pictures.” The former is a gospel-ish fanfare with minimal soloing from Tyner or anyone else, that adds flute, chanting, and Brazilian percussion to move it away from the Keith Jarrett-on-Impulse! territory it would otherwise inhabit. That’s followed by a nearly 15-minute take on “Fly with the Wind” that’s the album’s longest piece by far. The combination of drums and additional percussion give it a strong rhythmic drive, and George Adams delivers a fierce solo. Tyner himself goes quite far out at times, approaching the hyperspeed romanticism of Cecil Taylor during an unaccompanied passage. “Pictures,” the second new composition, is quite obviously a Tyner piece—it has the modal groove and powerful melody that most of his compositions offer, and the band runs it like an NFL play, Theus and Adams in particular: the saxophonist takes a wild, roaring, Pharoah Sanders-esque solo, and the drummer is in demolition mode. Despite the lack of new material, The Greeting captures a really good band absolutely steamrollering through a very strong set of music.
Passion Dance is another live album, recorded in Japan with Ron Carter and Tony Williams. This time, there are no new compositions at all. They perform two John Coltrane pieces—”Moment’s Notice” and “The Promise”—as well as “Passion Dance” and “Search for Peace” from The Real McCoy, and the title track from Song of the New World. Williams is in ultra-precise machine-gun mode; his solo on “Moment’s Notice” sounds more like Billy Cobham. What sets this album apart, though, and makes it worth hearing, is that the bassist and drummer are only present on that track and “Song of the New World.” The three pieces that make up the bulk of the album feature Tyner alone, taking his music apart and putting it back together. The nearly 12-minute version of “Passion Dance” is pretty intense, while “Search for Peace” begins as a tender ballad but eventually becomes a florid explosion of color, and while “The Promise” is more subdued, the way Tyner hammers the keyboard’s lower end is remarkably punishing at times. This isn’t an essential album, but it’s a reminder that he was always trying to do something new, even in a context—a club date in Japan—that could have allowed him to coast.
Tomorrow, we come to the end of this series, with Tyner’s last 1970s recordings.
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