Break Out the Axes

Guitars (Half Note/McCoy Tyner Music)
McCoy Tyner

By Martin Kasdan Jr.

Veteran pianist McCoy Tyner has not been one to rest on his laurels. Last year's live outing, titled simply Quartet, was one of his strongest releases in years. The leader, along with Joe Lovano, Christian McBride and Jeff "Tain" Watts breathed new life into such Tyner classics as "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit," "Passion Dance" and "Search for Peace." Now he has returned with a very different recording.

As the title suggests, this features several guitarists, namely John Scofield, Marc Ribot, Derek Trucks, Bill Frisell, plus banjo artist Béla Fleck. Bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette propel Tyner and his guests through a generous 74-minute excursion. As a bonus, there is a DVD which was shot during the rehearsals and performances. The DVD allows the viewer to choose to watch the groups in action, or to switch the view to focus on any single performer.

The music itself ranges from two free-form improvisations with Ribot to new versions of standards which Tyner originally recorded with John Coltrane, "My Favorite Things" with Fleck and "Greensleeves" with Trucks. It is telling that on these latter two songs, neither musician tried to emulate Trane. Fleck's take is at once subtle and complex. Trucks, whose live repertoire includes a searing version of "Greensleeves," here takes a more subdued approach, which works beautifully.

Scofield soars on Coltrane’s “Mr. P.C.,” one of the songs also included on the DVD, and watching Tyner and Sco trade smiles as they trade solos makes this viewer, at least, smile as well. Frisell, who often uses loops and other effects, is more straightforward here. He displays a very clear, clean tone on the lovely Tyner waltz "Contemplation."

With 14 songs, a complete "play-by-play" description would be overly long. Suffice it to say that this CD, despite the differing styles of Tyner's guests, it holds together extremely well.

During Tyner's lengthy post-Coltrane solo career, he has only rarely recorded with guitarists. His playing throughout suggests that while saxophone may be the other lead instrument most associated with Tyner, that he is equally at home with the sound of today's electric guitarists. This is an experiment which succeeds for fans of both the esteemed pianist and his colleagues.

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