McCoy Tyner's fourth studio album has a split personality, with three tracks featuring an intriguing sextet of all-stars, and the rest with his trusty trio, done eight months apart. Perhaps the tracks with bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Albert Heath were leftovers from a prior incomplete or aborted full session, but anything Tyner played in this period was precious. The larger ensemble recordings present trumpeter Thad Jones as ostensible co-leader, composer of one selection, and lead soloist. Tenor saxophonist John Gilmore and alto saxophonist Frank Strozier join forces with Thad Jones to make what some might deem an unlikely front-line triad, but effective enough considering their established individualism. Bassist Butch Warren and drummer Elvin Jones support the six-piece band, the first and only appearance for Warren with Tyner while the pianist was still with John Coltrane. The jewel in this collection is Tyner's "Three Flowers," a keeper that his big bands played prolifically later in life. Here the sextet hits the modal 3/4 beat with a thinner harmony under the lithe, soaring, enduring, and beautiful melody line. The Thad Jones contribution "T 'N A Blues" is an easy, basic, and short 12-bar chart with a phenomenal solo from Gilmore, while "Contemporary Focus" is a down-the-Nile signature sound for the controlled modal power Tyner wields, with Thad Jones belting out his bopping solo. The trio tracks are standards done with hints of other songs to begin with. Tyner fools you into thinking he's taking off on "Impressions" when it's actually "A Night in Tunisia"; "Autumn Leaves" has an improvised modal starting point that is quite spontaneous; and the chiming, wanton ballad "When Sunny Gets Blue" drips with all the pure emotion that Tyner can wring out of a weepy piano. The musicianship is so strong that it's hard to deny the high quality of what is presented here.
Today and Tomorrow Review
by Michael G. Nastos