McCoy Tyner Quartet - Samueli Theater - 12/13/13
Pianist McCoy Tyner turned 75 years old last Wednesday and his body reflected most of those years when he approached the piano on Friday night. Obviously, it is unfair to expect anyone to radiate the heat they were so famous for decades ago. No one has expected Willie McCovey to hit a home run since the Carter administration but they do like to see him step out on a field and wave his hat occasionally. This four night stand was Tyner's opportunity to wave his hat and bask in the glow of the adoration he rightly deserves, overcoming his limited mobility in order to entertain a rapt audience.
Tyner came to prominence alongside John Coltrane in the 1960s, offering a hammer for a left hand and claw for a right. The two helped to redefine jazz with their uninhibited outpourings of fire and soul, taking popular music into unchartered intellectual realms. After leaving Coltrane's band, Tyner continued to define his place as one of the most influential jazz pianists of the 20th century with a series of recordings in the 1960s and 1970s featuring unrelenting physicality from the piano bench.
Over the course of an hour set on Friday, Tyner was joined by saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Francisco Mela. Tyner addressed the microphone several times during the set, humbly thanking the crowd and briefly introducing Duke Ellington's "In A Mellowtone" but the band was never identified. Their sadly unrecognized contributions were essential to the band's success and the source for much of the evening's intensity but they didn't seem to mind.
Tyner is still reaching for those pounded left hand notes but his precision is a bit lost. At times, he laid on the sustain pedal for so long that the piano began to hum with the reverberations of a hundred notes. His glissandos and tremolos were occasionally arrhythmic but his attention to the overall performance was undimmed. He ended most of the tunes with an invisible whip crack and a shout and his stellar ensemble stopped on a dime.
Aside from a straight ahead take on the aforementioned "In A Mellowtone," Tyner and company took a rousing stroll through some Tyner-penned standards. "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit" was driven by Cannon's consistent thump while Mela battered his kit with youthful enthusiasm. Lovano honked wildly as the rest of the band traded smiles. Seeing Lovano as a sideman was an interesting treat, as he stayed out of the way for most of the evening and happily avoided the spotlight.