Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

McCoy Tyner: Guitars

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Guitars, a CD/DVD set featuring collaborations be-tween McCoy Tyner and five “guitarists” (one is banjoist Béla Fleck), is perhaps the most curious addition to the pianist’s catalog in recent memory. Tyner has played alongside guitar players at different times throughout his career, in both leader and sideman capacities, ranging in quality from the Carlos Santana-assisted, bizarrely commercial Looking Out from 1982 to Matador and Solid, a pair of terrific Grant Green sessions recorded in 1964 but thrown in the Stateside vaults for decades. (Those not familiar with these recordings are forgiven: Tyner’s work in the piano-trio format and with one very forward-thinking saxophonist from North Carolina tend to eclipse all else.)

This new project rests squarely between the extremes of Santana and Green: None of the proceedings sounds as forced as the Carlos ordeal, but the tracks lack the timeless organic fortitude of the Green sessions. (I know, I know-that’s unfair, a nostalgic pipe dream.) It’s the kind of producers’ baby that isn’t revelatory but is surely worth hearing, a fun set that should sell decently based on guitarists’ piqued curiosity alone.

The guests are pickers who’ve developed trusty techniques and calling-card aesthetics, so the results are mostly predictable. Marc Ribot skronks out some willfully ugly bop-from-hell licks and invites Tyner into rare free improvisations; Scofield swings stoutly through “Mr. P.C.”; Fleck solos with nimble newgrass chromaticism and renders the melody of “My Favorite Things” in a whimsical glockenspiel timbre; Derek Trucks lays bare his love for all things Coltrane on “Greensleeves”; and Bill Frisell sounds fluid and majestic on two wandering tributes to African guitarist Boubacar Traoré, even if his playing has become so identifiable as to suggest self-caricature. (Frisell’s sound, with its surf-instrumental luster, stands out among a cadre of tones that feature a surprising dryness. Particularly shortchanged is slide guitarist Trucks, whose interpretations of “Greensleeves” with his own band have suggested a profound sonic parallel to Trane’s saxophonic “sheets of sound.”) The dream-team rhythm tandem of Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette swings with perfection, which is one reason why it’s easy to forget it’s there. The other reason for overlooking such giants is the sheer oddball factor of hearing, say, Ribot open “Passion Dance” with sustained rock-guitar chords.

The very candid bonus DVD seems almost as valuable as the music itself. Fly-on-the-wall studio footage shows Frisell and Scofield talking gear, Tyner and Scofield listening to playback, and brief rehearsal footage of all the guitarists. Their movements and attitudes range from sweet and reverential (Fleck, Frisell), to quietly confident (Trucks, Scofield), to strangely comfortable (Ribot, who offers to overdub parts and requests from Tyner an atonal freakout). Throughout all of it Tyner smiles, chuckles and hammers those wholly influential fourths. These snippets support the DVD’s main program, which consists of song-length takes, one from each guest. If viewers have a capable DVD remote or computer, they can choose from among six different video streams per song (one for each player, one edited cut and one four-in-one screen option). It’s a clever feature, and one that makes plain how this set is more of a collectible than it is a lasting work of art.

Originally Published