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McCoy Tyner Taps into Coltrane Days

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Wednesday November 21, 2012

from Downbeat

*Tyner Taps into Coltrane Days *
By Shannon J. Effinger

As part of the two-week John Coltrane Festival, The Braxton Cook Group, which includes pianist Jahaan Sweet and trumpeter Cody Rowlands, more than held its own during the Oct. 26 pre-concert reception held in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Atrium. Joining trumpeter Christian Scott’s group earlier this summer, 21-year-old Cook possessed both the maturity and emotional depth needed to tackle Coltrane’s “Soul Eyes” and “Giant Steps.” Scott heard that promise in Cook, much like some 50-odd years ago, when a young John Coltrane discovered an even younger pianist named McCoy Tyner.

Known for his intense left-hand style and a vast melodic range that can shift from symphonic to blues in a single tune, Tyner is one of the most influential musicians of our time. Mirroring Coltrane’s modal style, Tyner’s gift has always lain in his ability to both stand out from and complement any rhythm section with ease.

As the sole living member of the now seminal Coltrane Quartet, Tyner was a natural choice to tap into “The Gentle Side Of John Coltrane,” borrowing its title from an early Impulse! compilation that not only highlights Coltrane’s gift for balladry, but also his deep exploration of the human condition. And for much of the late set that evening in The Allen Room, Tyner would honor his late friend and mentor with reinterpretations of Coltrane’s introspective body of work, all alongside carefully chosen musicians including drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Dave Holland and saxophonist Gary Bartz, a frequent Tyner collaborator.

Tyner’s contemplative opening not only set up Bartz’s entrance, but it also offered an added level of suspense in guessing which Coltrane number he’ll start out with. After hearing Bartz’s smooth relay of the melody line on alto sax, you immediately knew that it’s the Billy Eckstine-penned standard “I Want To Talk About You.” Bartz’s unwavering control of the harmony mirrored Coltrane’s direct approach to the number, much like a vocalist who only sings for you in a crowded room. The focus of the tune shifted from melodic to undeniably rhythmic as giants DeJohnette and Holland combined their respective heavy-handed approaches to add yet another layer of emotional heft.

Coltrane himself would have wept if he could hear Tyner’s opening on “Naima,” a tune the saxophonist penned for his first wife. Tyner created both tension and atmosphere with a flurry of notes that built into a wonderful crescendo. Just before the emotion overcame the audience, Tyner released that tension, and with the help of Holland and DeJohnette, the number shifted into a quiet, rhythmic samba, a nice counterbalance for Bartz’s alto sax to stand out. On “Naima,” Tyner best demonstrated both his intimacy and intrinsic knowledge of Coltrane’s compositions.

Tyner’s decision to close out the set with his original composition “Search For Peace,” from The Real McCoy album (Blue Note, 1967), was an inspired one that still holds relevance today for members of the jazz community. Like Lennon and McCartney, Coltrane and Tyner formed a musical partnership that not only revolutionized modern music but drew inspiration from turbulent times in order to paint a broader picture.

DownBeat sat down with Tyner prior to his tribute concert to discuss how he fell in love with the piano at first sound, and how Coltrane’s ear would forever change his life.

Read the full article and interview here