Listening to McCoy Tyner, who I knew as the pianist in John Coltrane’s 60s quartet, with Elvin Jones & Jimmy Garrison. I love it! Full of energy, bright, hits hard (especially because he’s playing with amazing drummers like Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Elvin Jones), and the heads are actually really cool, uplifting & melodic, like Vince Guaraldi did 2 tabs of acid and set out to find truth.
Tyner’s playing is great, which I knew from the Coltrane records. However, I can’t say I knew precisely HOW great until I heard Supertrios, and 1977 LP featuring two different trios. If I compared it to a guitarist, I’d say he’s one of those guys who’s great as a lead or rhythm player. His solos are pretty wild, tons of notes, frenetic speed, like a time-and-instrument transposed Vernon Reid, but they never get so “gone” that Tyner can’t come back to the head and the groove. And he lays INTO those heads like a man possessed of divine order to spread those mighty modal melodies to all within earshot. It’s a fantastic display of openness, laying bare the passion and emotional depth of an improvised solo, in a melody anyone can understand.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that his bands are essentially an A-list of jazz circa 1965-80. Supertrios features two trios: on the first half, Tyner teams with Tony Williams & Ron Carter, formerly of Miles Davis’ classic 60s quintet; on the second, Jack DeJohnette (also ex-Miles) & bassist Eddie Gomez (Bill Evans among many others). Looks great on paper, sounds amazing in reality. My initial reaction is that I like the Williams/Carter half a bit more, if only because that pair make up a good chunk of my jazz-knowledge DNA. Williams plays like Williams in his prime (read a quote online about his gift is to always play the unexpected thing at the unexpected time), and by 1977, that meant even more muscle than you might have heard on those Miles records. Ron Carter is also in prime form, snaking in an around Williams and Tyner, with that rubbery, resonant tone that I wish to hell I could capture and slice into MIDI for endless hours of god-tier bass tracks. But I can’t. So, I listen.
Their set is often wild and woolly (which I love), but the other half with DeJohnette & Gomez is a shade more refined. Not to say it’s staid, just closer to my idea of a “jazz trio”, where the previous group tended to explode out of it. Tyner is still doing his thing tho, and he’s the real reason why all of this stuff shines. “Four by Five” has another one of those cool, bizarrely Guaraldi-esque heads before Tyner takes off on a burning hard bop solo that would have been proudly welcomed on any of those Coltrane records. He’s like a beacon, a bright orb of light and energy. And a big fucking smile that I can only guess is aimed at the skies, or beyond. It’s cosmic music, but the kind they play when supernovae race each other, sledding down and over gravitational hills warped by DeJohnette’s kick. Occasionally they slam head-on, momentarily threatening to implode– but before you realize what’s happened, they’ve bounced back into trajectory, skitting the borders of chaos and grace.
The record is about half Tyner originals (like the aforementioned “Four by Five”), and half standards (“Stella By Starlight”, “Wave”, “Moment’s Notice”, “Lush Life”, etc.), but it doesn’t really matter since Tyner and co. are playing everything like they own it.