Piano master McCoy Tyner's latest release, 13th House, is a truly unusual recording that deserves particular attention. Mr. Tyner's scintillating, rapid fire eighth notes in the right hand, the subterranean rumbles from the piano's lower register, and of course, the thundering chords that have made his sound instantly recognizable to generations of admirers are all here in abundance. That's enough to warrant interest all by itself. But 13th House places Mr. Tyner in a large ensemble setting, playing modal compositions typically associated with smaller units.
13th House has an intriguing ensemble sound, made all the more so by the fact that the recording was done in 1980. The liner notes do not explain how a recording by a musician of Mr. Tyner's stature stayed out of circulation for 23 years, and deadline pressures precluded further inquiry. In any event, the band sounds like a ‘80s vintage big band. Although a few choices might be made differently today, it is hardly a criticism that the recording sounds like it was done when it was.
The accomplished supporting players bring off both demanding ensemble passages and solos in an organic, integrated way that gives 13th House a consistent, atmospheric quality. The liner notes single out the underappreciated trumpeter Kamau Muata Adilifu (Charles Sullivan) and saxophonist Joe Ford for special mention, and deservedly so. That said, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Jack DeJohnette and percussionists Airto and Dom Um Romão are particularly responsible for the terrific energy that runs through 13th House. The percussion work on "Love Samba" is astonishing.
Confirmed McCoy Tyner fans and big band devotees will gravitate toward 13th House on general principle, but others will certainly find this recording interesting and worthy on its own terms.