McCoy Tyner: How Deep Is The Ocean

McCoy Tyner essentially adapted Coltrane's vision to the piano, and thus influenced countless young pianists in much the same way as impressionable saxophonists (and other instrumentalists) were inspired by the power, challenging technical mastery, and spirituality of Coltrane's playing. As the years passed after Coltrane's death, it appeared that Tyner was "mellowing," while in reality he was simply returning to a broader stylistic approach, one that was already evident at times during his early '60s stint with Coltrane. Examples would include Tyner's work on Coltrane's Ballads and John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, as well as on his own Impulse albums such as Nights of Ballads and Blues and Plays Ellington.

For Tyner's second solo piano release, and his first since his Coltrane tribute Echoes of a Friend 16 years earlier, producer Michael Cuscuna wisely recorded him in an empty, acoustically ideal Merkin Concert Hall in New York. Thanks to the exceptional quality of Tyner's playing and the superior sound engineered by the esteemed David Baker, Revelations is a standout item in the pianist's vast discography. Tyner's version of "How Deep is the Ocean" is fascinating for what it reveals about his own influences as much as for how he can reinvent and refresh a well-known standard. He begins with some tolling dissonant notes alternating with cavernous chords, before entering the theme and embellishing it with jabbing phrases and potent left-hand figures. You are struck by how his penetrating sound seems to be fully resonating throughout the intimate venue in which he's playing. Tyner's solo mixes intriguing motifs and pounding chords with quick flourishes and runs, and he even takes his attack into exhilarating overdrive leading up to the final exploration of the melody, which he ends with a fittingly Monkish "trinkle tinkle." As you listen, glimpses flash by of Monk's quirkiness, Tatum's extravagance, and even Earl Hines's dexterous 2-handed unpredictability, all wonderfully endearing and gripping, if at times nearly overwhelming.

December 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Mad Duran: How Deep is the Ocean?

Mad Duran has long been admired among the San Francisco jazz insiders for her first-class alto work, and though she has been featured alongside her husband, Bay Area guitar legend Eddie Duran, on previous recordings, this is her first solo leader date. Fans who check out this release will wonder why she waited so long. Her playing is distinguished by smart linear improvisations, free from cliché and played with a rich, full-bodied tone, as supple as a '94 Napa cabernet.

The rest of the band adds to the festivities. Great rhythm sections begin at home . . . well, they do when you are married to Eddie Duran, who reminds us here of his mastery of the six strings. And the proceedings are enlivened by the further addition of Ray Drummond and Akira Tana. The result is a fresh and creative reworking of Irving Berlin's famous standard. In short, Simply Mad is simply fine.

May 28, 2008 · 1 comment


Tobias Gebb: How Deep Is The Ocean?

Judging by the name Trio West, you would think that Gebb's band had honed its craft in Hollywood and near various L.A. beach haunts. Not so fast . . . this group got its name from the Upper West Side, and made the CD in Brooklyn. But a cool jazz ambiance permeates the tracks on An Upper West Side Story, helped along by the leader's exceptional drum work. Gebb reminds me of Vernell Fournier and Chico Hamilton in his ability to swing hot with a light touch. This version of the Irving Berlin standard is a gem, with the band alternating between 5/4 for the first half of each chorus, and 4/4 for the last half. But this odd meter doesn't sound odd, just fresh and spicy with plenty of momentum. Won't somebody give these guys a ticket to a Hollywood?

April 03, 2008 · 1 comment


Art Blakey (featuring Wynton Marsalis): How Deep Is the Ocean?

I still remember the intense buzz when Art Blakey brought this band to San Francisco's Keystone Korner. The jazz cognoscenti were flocking to the club, and I heard them proclaiming: "I'm going to see Wynton." Not, "I'm going to hear Art Blakey." Or: "I'm going to check out the Jazz Messengers." Marsalis may have been a sideman and only 19 years old, and he had yet to release his first CD as a leader . . . but already word of mouth was spreading like a wildfire.

Marsalis did not disappoint, as this track will make clear. Wynton himself has sometimes made dismissive comments about his early work, but I still get jazzed every time I listen to his performance of "How Deep Is the Ocean?" In an era in which most trumpeters preferred to play fast rather than clean, with intensity rather than control, Wynton showed you could have it all. His sound is gorgeous on the slow, rubato opening, but even when the tempo accelerates and he starts dishing out fast, curlicue runs, he still gets that big, burnished tone. There are a few rough moments, for example when Marsalis and pianist James Williams appear to clash in their choice of a chord, but even this miscue adds to the sense of spontaneity of this live performance.

This period in Marsalis's career was almost over before it began. He was soon going beyond Brownie and Navarro, ready to assimilate Miles and Ornette, and then launch into his own Wynton-esque bag. But even if Marsalis had retired after his stint with Blakey, he would deserve consideration as one of the finest hard-bop trumpeters on the strength of performances such as this one.

January 07, 2008 · 0 comments


Harry 'Sweets' Edison: How Deep Is the Ocean?

Browsing rival websites recently for good stuff to steal—or, make that transmute into high art—we found Sweets Edison described, for the umpteenth time, as a "journeyman." This makes our blood boil, for it denotes competence not mastery, dependability without distinction. While he wasn't as spectacular as Roy Eldridge or as innovative as Dizzy, no trumpeter was more distinctive than Harry Edison, and few were as crafty. Here, brandishing his familiar cup mute, Sweets sets a honey of a tempo, leads by solid example and concocts a confectionary delight. If Sweets Edison was a journeyman, Rembrandt was a housepainter.

December 05, 2007 · 1 comment


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