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McCoy Tyner/Bobby Hutcherson/Charnett Moffett/Eric Harland: Land of Giants

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McCoy Tyner

McCoy Tyner was once quoted as saying, “To me living and music are all the same thing…I play what I live.” Little wonder he has displayed the same tasteful, forceful, bop-flavored keyboard karma that puts him in the land of Kenny Barron, Ahmad Jamal, Benny Green, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Cedar Walton-in other words, among those virtuosic giants who constantly push the envelope yet forever surprise their listeners, shifting moods from album to album.

Tyner has certainly shifted a number of musical moods from label to label-Impulse, Blue Note, Milestone-working with a diverse cross section of artists: from the mind-stretching explorations of John Coltrane to the joys of straightahead swing with Stephane Grappelli in duo form, and can he ever forget his stint with Ike and Tina Turner? Yet whatever the artists, the venues, the circumstances, McCoy Tyner has always shown one unwavering quality: consistency.

Therefore, to report that Tyner is at the top of his form on Land of Giants would be an exercise in redundancy; he has always been predictable. For this, his fourth release for Telarc, his mood reflects “living and music” in an uncomplicated, straightahead approach to swinging, and his compatriots-vibist Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Eric Harland-achieve the same gusto.

In this collection, Tyner’s playing chops are nearly overshadowed by his composing skills. Seven of the 10 cuts are his, and they run quite a gamut: “Serra Do Mar” and “Manalyuca” are garnished by varying degrees of Latin spices. The former song is marked by the tension of trying to break out of that mold: Hutcherson succeeds at times with jazz licks; Tyner is “kept honest” by the rhythmic persistence of Moffett and Harland. The latter tune reveals some of Tyner’s best writing and most imaginative playing; Moffett shows a dramatic flair for arco and Hutcherson flirts with bitonality.

Another tune that seems to “waver” is Tyner’s gorgeous ballad “December”-this time, very subtly, between 4/4 and 3/4. Moffett seldom walks; Harland constantly shifts accents. When they do get metronomic, as on the sizzling Tyner original “Steppin’,” they goose the pianist to some of his most inspired solo statements.

By comparison, two of the three standards are surprisingly polite jam sessions: “If I Were a Bell” offers excellent playing by Tyner and Hutcherson, particularly when they trade fours; “In a Mellow Tone,” sans vibes, cooks effortlessly and shows humorous exchanges between Tyner and Harland. “For All We Know” stands out most eloquently as a solo vehicle for Tyner. Not only does he get to show his command of the keyboard with his contemplative rubato, and his harmonic insights by reharmonizing so tastefully, but without warning he segues into a stride worthy of Art Tatum.

Tyner’s technique is still as dazzling as ever, but the speed, the bop flurries, the wide voicings, the harmonic language, are not meant to dazzle. They’re as instinctive as his breathing. If, indeed, he plays what he lives, McCoy Tyner enjoys the best of all possible worlds, and he is indeed in the land of the giants.

Originally Published