Monday, December 07, 2015

The Real McCoy: With Echoes by Some Friends, Tyner Still Exudes Thunder from His Fingertips -- Chicago Jazz Review

Jazz Concert Review

Echoes with a Friend (program title)
McCoy Tyner Trio
Geri Allen
Danilo Pérez
Symphony Center, Chicago
December 4, 2015

I love the sound of a well-played piano, whether at my local Mariano's, a library recital or on a concert stage.

This likely emanates from the heavy use of piano on my favorite album, Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, and with the playing of Roy Bittan also being a mainstay of all E Street Band shows.

But far beyond enjoying piano in the rock idiom, whether by Elton John, Billy Joel or sidemen like Bittan and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, I love hearing great classical, jazz, blues, honky tonk, cabaret and other pianists.

This includes having heard live some of the most acclaimed in a classical vein--Evgeny Kissin, Lang Lang, Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman--and many more, if as not readily namable, in other genres.

So while I don't pretend to know what I'm talking about, and realize how folly it is to compare "greatness" in this realm--especially as I all too often equate it with playing "loud and fast"--it's not without some point of reference I share that I have never heard anyone play the piano as distinctively as McCoy Tyner.

McCoy Tyner. Photo credit: Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune
Tyner rose to prominence before I was born, as pianist in the John Coltrane Quartet during the first half of the 1960s, with the group's sax-playing namesake being one of the most influential musicians in history.

He would long build his own legacy following Coltrane's 1967 death, and once elucidated by a friend, I've made a point of seeing the Tyner at least 3 times in the 21st century--including in 2007 at Symphony Center, where he also appeared on Friday.

This Chicago visit came a week shy of his 77th birthday, and in addition to looking a bit frail, he walks and talks somewhat slowly these days.

But when he puts his fingers to the ivories, the thunder and lightning are still there.

Granted, with his trio, Tyner performed for just 30 minutes, in what was set up as something of a tribute program called Echoes with a Friend--playing off his 1972 album Echoes of a Friend, on which he paid tribute to Coltrane--that featured two other virtuoso jazz pianists, Geri Allen and Danilo Pérez, playing Tyner compositions.

Both were terrific, whether playing solo or with the two other members of the current McCoy Tyner Trio: bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Francisco Mela. (For the titles of all the pieces that were played, including by Tyner, I reference you to this much more expert review by longtime Chicago Tribune jazz critic, Howard Reich.)

McCoy Tyner. Photo credit: Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune
But as good as Allen and then Pérez sounded, playing Tyner's music with his sidemen, there was a palpable rise in excitement--musically, in the moment, as well as reverentially nostalgic--when the real McCoy took control of the keys.

Even with the limitations of advancing age, he played with a unique combination of power and dexterity that validated--for me at least, though presumably most jazz aficionados including Reich--that even within the rarefied strata of famed concert (and particularly jazz) pianists, there has always been, and remains, something special about McCoy Tyner.

Allen and Pérez clearly feel the same way, given their effusive praise for the legend they were saluting. Early in her set, Allen warmly expressed:
"McCoy is a pure illustrator who changed the world through sound, music and love." 
The only more moving spoken tribute of the evening came from Tyner to Coltrane, remembering how
the first legendary Philadelphia-bred sax player McCoy played with--Benny Golson--asked John to "pick him up," but supposedly regretted it thereafter. (Coltrane and Tyner also hailed from Philly.)

As Tyner was only 21 when he joined Coltrane's quartet, he noted from the Orchestra Hall stage, "I was very young."

And then went on to quip, as corroborated by the quality of his playing, if not the quantity:

"I still am."

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