The Jazz.com Blog
November 03, 2008 · 0 comments
For more than a month, McCoy Tyner's latest CD, Guitars, has held the top spot on the JazzWeek charts. This intriguing collaboration, featuring Tyner alongside several of the leading guitarists (or, in the case of Béla Fleck, the leading banjoist) on the current jazz scene, stands out as one more highlight in an illustrious career that first took off some five decades ago. (See more on this CD here.) Recently Tyner gave a press conference to talk about this unusual project. Tomas Peña reports below. T.G.
There is something to be said for an elder statesman who celebrates his 70th birthday by taking a musical leap of faith. That’s exactly what pianist, McCoy Tyner does on his new album, Guitars, a studio “throw down” with guitarists, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Derek Trucks, Marc Ribot and Béla Fleck and the stellar rhythm section of bassist, Ron Carter and drummer, Jack DeJohnette. The album and accompanying DVD mark Tyner’s second recording for McCoy Tyner Music (a subdivision of Blue Note Records) and it’s one of his finest and most ambitious outings to date.
By any measure the concept for the album was a bold move. All of the participants possess strong voices and the majority of the material was suggested and/or written by the guitarists themselves. And did I mention that there were no rehearsals to speak of? During a recent press teleconference Tyner was asked if at any point he felt like there were too many cooks in the kitchen, to which he replied, “I like those cooks because everybody cooks a different dish! We weren’t looking for differences, we were looking for similarities—and conceptual blending—and the music reflects that.”
Of the group, John Scofield and Bela Fleck are the only two guitarists who have had the distinction of performing with Tyner in the past (though Tyner has no recollection of performing with Fleck). It’s obvious from watching the accompanying DVD that Scofield, a wicked improviser and arguably one of the “big three” guitarists (the other two being Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell) felt at home in Tyner territory. According to one observer, Tyner and Scofield’s rendition of “Blues on the Corner” nearly “burned a hole in the carpet.” In this writer’s opinion, “Mr. P.C.” gets an A + for pure, unadulterated swing.
Tyner’s collaboration with Bill Frisell is at the other end of the spectrum but is no less tasty. Known as “the Philip Glass of the Guitar,” Frisell constructs rhythms with a laid back, unassuming feel that tends to draw you in and leave you mesmerized. On the tunes “Contemplation” and the Malian tinged “Baba Drama,” Tyner rides the rhythm as Frisell’s music gently unfolds before you.
Tyner’s bluesy collaboration with Derek Trucks (best known for his work with the Allman Brothers) spans the generation gap. Moreover, it’s in keeping with Tyner’s coda that, “It’s best to let a person be and find a place where they can meet and create something interesting.” Here, Tyner and Trucks assume the roles of Sorcerer and apprentice as they tackle “Greensleeves” and “Slapback Blues.” If you’ve ever wondered why the words, “Derek Trucks” and “genius” are mentioned in the same breath, there is no need to look any further than these two tracks.
On the surface, Mark Ribot appears to be the most improbable guitarist of the bunch but the “free” nature of “Improvisation 1” and “Improvisation 2” transported Tyner back to his early days as a side man with the late, great John Coltrane. According to Tyner, “John and I used to do that in the studio all the time. I love playing free.” This becomes glaringly obvious as the two create three impromptu duets, all of which are documented on the DVD.
The “odd man out” is banjo player Béla Fleck, aka the “Buddy Rich of the banjo.” For reasons only known to Fleck, he insisted on performing “My Favorite Things,” a tune that most musicians wisely steer clear of. Nevertheless, Fleck not only draws Tyner into the fray, but the two somehow manage to elevate the narrative to an entirely new level. By the way, if you find yourself asking, “How does he do that on the banjo?” join the club!
When Tyner was asked how he maintains such a high level of musicianship after all these years he simply replied, “You have to love it. It’s something that I have been doing for most of my life and it’s a wonderful way to live and make a living.” When the subject of his upcoming 70th birthday came up, he humbly remarked, “It’s just nice to be on the planet for another year!” As for future projects, Tyner says he likes keep the door open and keep an eye on who comes through. “I don’t like to predict,” Tyner said, “because every day is different. You have to take things day by day, hour by hour and minute by minute.”
As producer John Snyder tells it, “This is a maximum effort by highly individualistic musicians.” If you’re up for the challenge I highly recommend that you find a comfortable spot and listen to the album all the way through. No doubt you will agree that this is one of Tyner’s finest and most innovative recordings to date. Happy Birthday McCoy and many more!
This blog entry posted by Tomas Peña.