McCoy Tyner

Solo: Live from San Francisco

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McCoy Tyner has rarely been reliant on others, although his legendary co-dependency with John Coltrane yielded obvious spectacular and unforgettable results. The great pianist has been very favorably heard in a variety of settings, but it's been quite some time since he's released a solo album -- the Blue Note label releases Reevaluations from 1988, Soliloquy done in 1991, or the 1991 Who's Who in Jazz set Live in Warsaw were all quite memorable. From the SF Jazz Festival's Spring Series in May of 2007, Tyner tackles the solo spotlight once again, as his talent rises, soars, and takes off while the program continues for some 50 minutes. All of the hallmarks of his sound, from up and down dynamics to the legendary crashing of chords, especially with his left hand, and the stunning virtuosity of his improvisational runs and streaks, assure you that he is in good spirits and has energy to burn off even at his advanced age. Tyner entered this performance with no preconceived set list, but it's clear a focused vision and sense of purpose serve him well as he mixes up these 11 standards and originals. Of his own works, "Just Feelin'" is Tyner's most revered in its bouncy construct, still fresh and alive even though the larger instrumentation of the original versions is stripped down here. "African Village" and "Blues for Jeff" are newer pieces, the former starting like "Footprints" before serving up constantly changing pacings and modal motifs, the latter a basic, straight-ahead, no-nonsense, upbeat, and rambling discourse. The peaceful, tender "Ballad for Aisha" and the bright, happy "Angelina" bring Tyner into a different, stoic space with that ever-present left hand undeniably potent. As many thousands of times as Tyner has done Coltrane's "Naima," he still seems to discover how to further refine it, and lovingly does so here. He takes diminished or arpeggiated nuances on "I Should Care" in no time with some stride inflections, fully extrapolates the basic structure of "Sweet & Lovely," and rips through a speedy version of Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird" with a wildly inspired bridge. The obligatory Duke Ellington homage "In a Mellow Tone" closes the performance in a manner that starts out sounding like "Two Close for Comfort," a sly technique Tyner has magically wielded throughout his stellar career. This is yet another of the many triumphant recordings Tyner has given to the world, and though always challenging for any solo artist, he easily pulls it off with nary a hitch, much spirit, and a ton of soul.

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