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McCoy Tyner Majestic

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Monday December 14, 2009

From the Chicago Tribune
By Howard Reich

To celebrate his 71st birthday on Friday, pianist McCoy Tyner made a gift to Chicago.

It came in the form of two majestic sets in Orchestra Hall, one leading a trio, the other collaborating with Jeff Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra. In each instance, Tyner offered a signature brand of pianism built on enormous chords and great swirls of sound.

No, Tyner did not summon the thunder of old. Looking frail, he walked to the piano slowly and deliberately. But once he got there, the energy he conveyed at the keyboard, as well as the complexities of his harmonies, reaffirmed the singularity of his art. Generations of jazz pianists have absorbed his innovations, but they’re most persuasive coming from Tyner’s fingers.

He opened the evening with a roar, plunging headlong into an original tune, “Suddenly.” The fortissimos may not have been as shattering as in the past, but the sheer density of his textures and the power of his right-hand octaves showed a pianist determined to work on the grandest scale possible. He was aided significantly by drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt and bassist Gerald Cannon, who gave Tyner’s ideas additional sonic heft.

But Tyner’s concepts came to full flower in the concert’s second set, when the pianist and his trio joined forces with the CJO. To hear Tyner’s full-throttle pianism riding blasts of sound from the orchestra was to appreciate anew the ferocity of Tyner’s best work and the originality of his compositions.

In his “Passion Dance,” Tyner unleashed brazen dissonances and relentless rhythmic thrust. The give and take between Tyner and the CJO was quick and impressive.

Tyner reached the high point of his performance in Mackrel’s “No Frills,” throwing off fast-running scales and immense chord clusters. Here he summoned some of the fervor of younger years.

It must be intimidating for younger generations to perform solo in front of Tyner, but several CJO instrumentalists held their own. John Wojciechowski played nearly to a frenzy on soprano saxophone in “No Frills.” Tenor saxophonist Ari Brown brought a South Side blues sensibility to Tyner tunes.

As an encore, Tyner played a lush solo version of “For All We Know.” Its lyrics suggest a farewell and Tyner’s rhapsodic pianism made at least one listener thankful for another chance to hear him.

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