McCoy Tyner's Guitars would be perfect fodder for a blindfold test, but not so much just to identify who's playing what when, but to simply marvel at the wondrous interaction of this entire roster of players, sans the intrusion of the cult of personality.
In that light, the CD is a marvelous listen on its own terms, The sequencing of the fourteen tracks allows the musicians to render all the material honestly, while at the same time building a palpable flow throughout its course. It's notable that while the vigorous clarity of Tyner's own playingand that of his equally authoritative rhythm section of Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnettewould suffice as an album on its own, theylike the rest of the guestsadjust their roles to accommodate the changing dynamics of the sessions.
In his good-natured liner essay, producer John Snyder makes mention of some friction that arose between Marc Ribot and Carter that ultimately led to the only duets with Tyner that appear on the album. Those interactions are no less fruitful, though markedly more angular, than the ever so smooth rendering of "Passion Dance" or "500 Miles." The two men feed each other's imagination whether they play freely or within structure.
Conversely, there is John Scofield's partnering on "Mr. PC." As filmed in the studio and seen on the accompanying DVD, the ageless guitarist takes the down-to-earth approach of the working musician. The stoicism he evinces as he plays, no doubt grounded at least in part in his experience playing with Miles Davis, imbues his playing with more rather than less passion.
No more star-struck is young Derek Trucks. Seemingly intent to a fault in his deference to Tyner as they work out arrangements, the precocious guitarist matches the pianist note-for-note and line-for-line, right in time with the authoritative Carter and DeJohnette, on "Greensleeves" and "Slapback Blues."
The interactive DVD content of the Guitars package, with its varied viewing perspectives, allows the simulation of being a part of the sessions, right in the middle of things, or separated with the bassist and/or drummer, in keeping with the actual setup in the studio. Yet there is no sense of isolation: watching banjoist Bela Fleck instruct McCoy Tyner, without forgetting the rhythm section, leads to the kudos the banjoist receives from the front-man when "Amberjack" has been played. Fleck's humble demeanor is in direct proportion to the acuity of his playing and composing of the tune.
The same is true of Bill Frisell's contributions. With an ear for composing as idiosyncratic as his fretwork on "Boubacar," he ultimately lends even more personality to the project with the empathy he displays on "Contemplation." Meanwhile Tyner's presence is the true source of inspiration for a musical experience no more or less stunning in audio or video.
Track Listing: Improvisation 2; Passion Dance; 500 Miles; Mr. P.C.; Blues On The Corner; Improvisation 1; Trade Winds; Amberjack; My Favorite Things; Slapback Blues; Greensleeves; Contemplation; Boubacar; Baba Drame.
Personnel: McCoy Tyner: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums; Marc Ribot: guitar (1-3, 6); John Scofield: guitar (4, 5); Bela Fleck: banjo (7-9); Derek Trucks: guitar (10, 11); Bill Frisell: guitar (12-14).