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Published: 2008/11/03
by Brad Farberman

Guitars – McCoy Tyner

McCoy Tyner Music/Half-Note Records

Veteran pianist McCoy Tyner, who will turn 70 this year, was the first to leave John Coltrane’s best-known quartet (also featuring Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison) when the saxophonist took things “out” in 1965. But things have changed since Tyner’s time with Trane—1960-1965—and the pianist’s spontaneous duets with Marc Ribot on Guitars are among the best cuts from the session.

It’s interesting, though, to note the lengths of these duets. The disc-opening “Improvisation 2” features a mere minute and 35 seconds of commanding guitar squeals and risky, yet unassuming piano figures. The gorgeous “Improvisation 1,” featuring mostly consonant work from Tyner while Ribot burns beneath, checks out at 3:47 and “Improvisation 3,” found only on the accompanying DVD, concludes in less than two minutes. As one might gather from watching the film of Ribot and Tyner, Tyner was uncomfortable in this setting, and ended two of the three duos well before they had time to boil. Nevertheless, Tyner’s version of “free jazz,” whatever that means, is compelling, and pretty, and a welcome alternative to much of what the jazz avant garde has to offer.

All that said (phew!), it’s only fair that I mention the other guests on Guitars, a concept album that pairs Tyner (and rhythm section legends Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette) with some of the finest six-stringers of our time (John Scofield! Bill Frisell! Derek Trucks!), plus banjoist Bela Fleck. Each of these virtuosos turn in compelling performances (especially Frisell, who has worked with both Carter and DeJohnette in the past), but it’s Ribot, and Fleck (just when you thought you never needed another cover of “My Favorite Things” you do!) who make this album worth owning.

Tyner will be at the Blue Note in New York from December 9-14, with Ribot (12/9), Frisell (12/13), Scofield (12/14), Ravi Coltrane (12/11 and 12) and Joe Lovano (12/10).

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