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October 1997

McCoy Tyner
Inception
Plays Ellington

Impulse!

Arguably, along with Bill Evans and Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner ranks as the most influential pianist to emerge since the mid-1950s. (I'm not saying these three are better than Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea or Keith Jarrett, just more influential). When Tyner emerged in 1959 on a Curtis Fuller LP, he displayed a light touch, suppleness and considerable dexterity, so that his work was reminiscent of Hank Jones' or Tommy Flanagan's. With The Jazztet the next year McCoy's voicings and left hand work indicated that he'd been influenced by Red Garland. Tyner gained attention in the early and mid-1960s as a member of John Coltrane's group, and learned from Trane. Tyner's use of fourths and the pentatonic scale was picked up by tons of pianists.

Cut in 1962, Inception is McCoy's first album as a leader. He's accompanied by bassist Art Davis and drummer Elvin Jones, and four of the six compositions here are by him. The 24-bar "Effendi," based on a simple chord progression which reflects a modal jazz influence, the lovely ballad "Sunset" and the cooking title tune are standout pieces.

McCoy plays wonderfully; he's already his own man, but his long substantive phrases, lightness and grace still remind me of his work with Fuller.

During the Plays Ellington disc (1964) Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison appear, and, on some tracks, Latin percussionists Willie Rodriguez and Johnny Pacheco. Though Tyner had become an even more individual stylist since Inception was cut, Plays Ellington doesn't show it; it's a more commercial, conservative album. Don't get me wrong, he still plays very well, but does not use any of his provocative compositions and plays in a more traditional, groove-oriented, funky manner. He brings off well what he attempts, but what he attempts is less challenging than what he was doing with Coltrane in 1964.

Originally published in October 1997
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