McCoy Tyner's annual two-week residency at Yoshi's jazz club in Oakland is always an "event", with all performances selling out well in advance. For the first week of this year's stay, Tyner was matched up with an all-star lineup in a classic quintet arrangement. They did not disappoint. The Sunday matinee show was exciting, often brilliant, and brimming with joy. But let's get one thing straight. Tyner may have been the headliner, but the real star of the show was bassist Charnett Moffett. While the horns needed a full song to get into synch, Moffett hit the ground running with a marvelous blend of precise, melodic playing and a sense of unbridled fun that quickly infected the rest of the band. The set opened with a swinging Hank Mobley tune ("This I Dig Of You"), that soon established the tight interplay of the rhythm section. Brian Blade's drums provided constant, Elvin Jones-style propulsion as Moffett broke the ice by quoting Christmas carols and laying down a hard groove. George Coleman, who was solid on tenor sax throughout the set but never fully distinguished himself, turned in an exceptionally long and twisting solo that featured several surprising leaps into the alto range. After a brief introduction, the group broke loose with a blazingly fast rendition of "What Is This Thing Called Love". Terence Blanchard turned in a blistering and powerful trumpet solo, at some points abandoning his microphone with no loss of projection. Tyner followed up with an amazing turn of his own, but Moffett stole the show with a two-minute stretch in which he essentially dueted with himself, laying down a deep bass line and picking out a subtle bell-like melody at the same time.
Everyone except Blade left the stage during a fantastic solo piano improvisation by Tyner, which ranged from a bouncy stride to introspective beauty, laced with classical references, rising and falling in waves. It was as if all the great pianists of the 20th century had temporarily taken joint control of one man's hands.
The rhythm section returned for an energetic, Latinized trio number with a sweeping, orchestral feel that reminded me of Tyner's 1970's recordings for Milestone. Moffett again grabbed the limelight here by employing his bow as a percussive tool. The resulting sound effect akin to a prepared piano raised gasps of pleasure from the enthralled audience.
The set ended with the full quintet in a straight hard bop blues. Although everyone turned in a fine performance, my companions and I found ourselves wanting more of the trio. The horns just couldn't keep up with the nearly psychic interaction of Tyner, Blade and Moffett.
I may just be under the influence of Yoshi's incredible raspberry chocolate mousse, but this was one of the most satisfying concerts I've attended in quite some time. I eagerly anticipate next year's visit.