Is This Jazz?: Passion Reverence Transcendence — A Tribute to McCoy Tyner

mccoytynerOn December 11, the legendary jazz pianist McCoy Tyner turned 80 years old. A few months earlier, I received an album by the trio of pianist Benito Gonzalez, drummer Gerry Gibbs and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet that was conceived and recorded as a tribute to Tyner’s musical genius and legacy, and released on Whaling City Sound this past April. Unfortunately, I never got around to sitting down with the album and giving it a proper listen, but Tyner’s 80th birthday made me think now would be as good time to dig into this album: Passion Reverence Transcendence.

If anyone was ever going to question how much passion this trio was bringing to this project, then any doubt would be furiously extinguished in the first seconds of the opening track “Fly With The Wind,” a McCoy Tyner classic. They come out slinging fire, playing this chart at full tilt. This explosiveness segues well into “Just Feelin’,” which imbues Tyner’s chart with a contemporary, slightly fusion sound with the use of the electric bass and the loose half-time groove, followed by the heavy swinging “Rotunda,” which is a brilliant showcase for the pocket of Gibbs and Okon Essiet. The arrangement and production on the intro to “Festival In Bahia” are a lovely reprieve before launching into another full on sonic boom, this time with some interesting Afro-Cuban rhythms and  a range of percussion.

By the time I reached track 5, “Blues On The Corner,” I was itching for a new feel and the trio delivered with a wonderfully laid-back blues on which everyone hangs back without losing any of the momentum they’ve established over the first third of this album. We’re back to full scale on “The Greeting,” which brims with interesting percussion textures and band-wide explorations, then we settle into a beautiful ballad with “You Taught My Heart To Sing.” One of the highlights of this album for me was “Atlantis,” which has a lot of the same elements as many of the other tracks, but by this time on the album they seem to have refined all their choices and balance the big production with the bombastic nature of the original Tyner recording. The album rounds out with another hard swinging tune with “Inner Glimpse,” a giant but flowing version of Coltrane’s “Naima,” and three stellar originals by the trio: “Tyner/Trane Express,” “Between Friends” and “Brazilian Girls.”

Overall, this is an incredibly expansive album that adds a lot of interesting texture to McCoy Tyner’s original charts while not deviating too far from what makes the original material so dynamic. The trio performs excellently together, the solos are spirited and the interplay is fantastic to listen to — clearly a group who has honed in on a sound they love. I wish at times there were moments where the ensemble pulled back and gave the music a bit more breathing room, but the energy they bring is infectious enough to keep your ears engaged as long as you strap in for the wild, brilliant ride that is this album.

The album is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon, or head over to whalingcitysound.com for more information.

Happening Around Town:

The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra; first Monday monthly @ The Met (Pawtucket)

Is This Jazz?; (Providence) visit isthisjazz.tumblr.com for listings

Groove Merchants; Mondays @ Fifth Element (Newport)

Jazz Jam; Tuesdays @ Ten Rocks (Pawtucket)

Jazz At The Parlour; Sundays (jam held every third Sunday) @ The Parlour (Providence)

Modern Sound Series; last Sunday monthly @ Tea In Sahara (Providence)

Leland Baker Quartet; Wednesdays @ Acacia Club (Providence)

 To add your listing email isthisjazzri@gmail.comBen Shaw is a local composer and performer. Find him at ahueofshaw.tumblr.com.

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