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McCoy Tyner: Illuminations

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Great albums like Illuminations used to be the benchmark of major labels, but now only the indies and/or foreign companies respect jazz enough to give giants like McCoy Tyner the necessary resources and authority for making fabulous recordings. While there’s nothing here as conceptually challenging as past Tyner gems like Sahara, in terms of playing quality, thematic variety and expressiveness it’s about as good as it gets in the current marketplace. Tyner, saxophonist Gary Bartz, trumpeter Ter-ence Blanchard, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash are outstanding on every number. There’s also a couple of session surprises, notably Tyner’s spry “New Orleans Stomp,” which features an explosive Blanchard romp and Tyner, McBride and Nash’s mastery of Crescent City rhythms and sensibility. When the group tackles standards, they perform them with zest and style, while Bartz and Blanchard take turns developing and almost exploding through the melodies before shifting into their solos. The band’s unison sections are also sharply presented and executed, and Tyner’s whirling solos hold everything together.

Tyner’s treatments of “Alone Together” and “Come Rain or Come Shine” rank among the disc’s prime moments. He concludes the session with “Alone Together,” offering a robust version of the established melody before delivering yet another rousing, harmonically masterful reconfiguration. He is not as elaborate on “Come Rain or Come Shine,” preferring instead to let his solo present spry responses to the direction being established by McBride and Nash. But he wraps it with a flourish, delivering a snappy repartee before its conclusion. This disc also shows that Tyner can be just as impressive on short numbers. Both “The Chase” and “West Philly Tone Poem” come in under four minutes, yet the tunes include crisp opening and closing sections and memorable section exchanges and statements.

Anyone who’s seen McCoy Tyner in concert the past couple of years knows he’s still playing fierce, uncompromising and delightful music. This album shows he can also continue making commensurate albums for the labels willing to let him.