At the Blue Note on Wednesday, January 11.
Jazz is never going to be my thing. I have tried (and tried and tried and tried), but I always feel at sea to some extent. Sometimes I get something out of it, and sometimes I simply don’t, but the music never truly speaks to me the way other genres do. I feel bad about that (I feel bad about lots of things), but there it is.
That said, the surest way to pull me out a little bit is to feature a good pianist, and McCoy Tyner happens to be a great one. His résumé—pianist for the John Coltrane Quartet as well as sideman on numerous albums for Blue Note Records and eventual bandleader—is obviously pretty striking (it’s generally a good sign if even I recognize the names), but it wasn’t just Tyner’s credentials that impressed me. He’s an incredible pianist, in a way that transcends genre altogether.
Besides the obvious sense of line (which is sort of a prerequisite), Tyner has a great flair for texture, playing with inner voices and romping bass lines and lushly intriguing harmonic progressions. Other jazz pianists I’ve heard achieve that sort of thing by riffing on Rachmaninoff, for example, but Tyner doesn’t need to borrow. Those characteristics are already his, whether he’s backgrounding behind one of the others in the band or taking the foreground himself. His playing sets the instrument at its best, highlighting its versatility, ranging from raw percussiveness to liquid melodies.
Tyner was generous in giving featured saxophonist Gary Bartz, as well as the bassist and drummer, their moments in the spotlight—and each is quite talented—but I think I enjoyed his solo best, simply because I so appreciated his expressive virtuosity at the piano. Okay, so the music itself still lives me a bit cool. Tyner’s performance was definitely hot enough to compensate.