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Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okon Essiet: Passion Reverence Transcendence: The Music of McCoy Tyner (Whaling City Sound)

Review of a piano-trio tribute to a great keys man

Cover of Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Essiet album Passion Reverence Transcendence
Cover of Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Essiet album Passion Reverence Transcendence

Fans and critics of pianist Benito Gonzalez agree: He’s a Latin McCoy Tyner. In other words, no matter how you feel about Gonzalez, an album of Tyner compositions is almost painfully on the nose. The younger pianist distinguishes his versions with a funkier rhythmic approach (in a trio with bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer/percussionist Gerry Gibbs), but is still too close a mimic of Tyner’s to make the music his own.

In fact, “Just Feelin’” finds Gonzalez actively copping not just Tyner licks, but licks from Tyner’s original 1985 “Just Feelin’” solo. Yes, Gonzalez displaces them within the corpus of his own solo, but they’re still Tyner’s. Elsewhere, the cribbing takes the form of textural ideas. If Earl Klugh’s acoustic guitar irradiated Tyner’s “Festival in Bahia,” does giving the same part to Gibbs on a harp really qualify as putting a new stamp on it? As for “Blues on the Corner,” if one isn’t going to depart from the Tynerisms on his signature tune, there’s not much point.

Gibbs’ marimbas are a nice touch on “Atlantis,” however, even if Gonzalez hews awfully close to Tyner’s crashing tidal waves. The drummer brings the most personality to the record with a delicious crashing solo on “Rotunda” and extra rhythmic juice on “You Taught My Heart to Sing.” (Interestingly, the great Essiet leaves the subtlest mark by far on the album, with the exception of his squiggly composition “Tyner/Trane Express.”) On the three originals (one by each member) that close the album, in particular Gonzalez’s irrepressible “Brazilian Girls,” the amount of pianistic imitation lessens. On a solo rendition of “Naima” he also acquits himself tastefully—if not originally.

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