The Jazz.com Blog
September 23, 2008 · 0 comments
McCoy Tyner has rarely recorded with guitarists during the course of his career. And for good reason. This pianist doesn’t leave much room for other harmony instruments. Any note your self-respecting guitarist might be thinking about putting into the chord . . . well, McCoy is probably already playing it fortissimo. And if any six-stringer is planning to get into a fight over comping rights . . . well, I can tell you right now who will win that battle.
So I wasn’t surprised when I saw that Tyner was releasing a CD featuring four guitarists and a banjoist. “That evens things up a bit,” I thought to myself. “With a team of string players in the room at the same time, they can put up more of a fight.” Let McCoy deal with five suspended chords coming his way all at once, and see how he likes it.
And the musicians on hand were a formidable lot: Béla Fleck, Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, John Scofield and Derek Trucks. Add Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette into the mix, and you have the makings of a major league mash-up. In my mind, I envisioned a plucked, strummed, picked and bottlenecked version of Ascension.
But then I discovered, to my horror, that these guitarists weren’t taking on McCoy in tandem. Each one was going into the lion’s den alone. And some sadistic film-maker had captured everything on video, and included it on a “companion DVD.”
I braced myself with a couple shots of whiskey, then sat down to witness the proceedings. But I can report, with great relief, that everyone of the “guest” artists survived this encounter with the titanic Tyner. This was a feisty crew, and these guests showed why they were invited in the first place. Tyner, for his part, was an amiable (if formidable) host, and even left his guitarist friends some space to strut their stuff.
About half of the tracks here reprise familiar tunes dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. They include songs Tyner played with John Coltrane (such as “Greensleeves” and “My Favorite Things”) or compositions from his own sessions from that period (such as “Passion Dance” and “Blues on the Corner”). In one instance, the musicians reach far back for a John Coltrane tune from the period before Tyner was in the band (“Mr. P.C.). And Marc Ribot even brings along his arrangement of a 1960s-era folk revival song “500 Miles”—a strange choice until you remember that Coltrane and Tyner were among the most daring, back in that period, in doing covers of the least likely pop songs. (Anyone remember ”Chim Chim Cheree”?)
But this was anything but a tepid retrospective on the “Good Old Days.” In case you had any doubts about the nature of this "theme" project, the CD opens with an atonal clash of the chords—Ribot and Tyner facing off and sending sonic shrapnel in each other’s general direction. “There Will Be Blood,” I muttered to myself, and I wasn’t talking about Daniel Day-Lewis. But Ribot gave as good as he got, and by the time we get to “500 Miles,” a peace-and-love ambiance has almost—but not quite—settled on the proceedings.
There are many highlights to this lengthy CD—which contains more than 74 minutes of music. I am not sure how well jazz fans know Derek Trucks, who has made his reputation mostly in the blues and blues-rock genres. But he is one of my favorite guitarists, and shows here how he can mix it up in a different type of setting than he usually favors. But when it comes to blues, John Scofield can show off his credentials too, as he demonstrates here on “Blues on the Corner.” This is one of Tyner’s jauntier pieces, and performed with gusto on this updated version. Scofield is also quite effective on "Mr. P.C.," another blues (this one in minor), which is a standout track. Béla Fleck, for his part, comes closest to taking on Tyner at close quarters. He moves into heavy modal territory with his voicings and licks, reminding us of the pianist’s own bag of tricks. Even when you think you have heard everything a banjo could possibly do, Fleck shows you a new twist, a different angle.
Bill Frisell is the final gladiatior, and is given the last three tracks on the CD. Miracle of miracles . . he even manages to take over the rhythm section for a spell, setting his own mood and sensibility on “Baba Drame.” This is the closing track and stretches out over a simple, throbbing vamp; and instead of conventional solos we just get a simmering, repeating groove, as surprising as the atonal maelstrom that opened up this CD. Peace and love finally prevails . . . and, thank goodness! Maybe that means we will get a sequel.
This blog article posted by Ted Gioia.