McCoy Tyner: The Greeting (1978)
This is a rather welcome addition to McCoy Tyner's reissue catalog on compact disc. For those acquainted with Tyner's 1970s Milestone output after all, this live date featuring his sextet from the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco (1978) is definitely one of the more worthwhile Milestone Tyners.
In contrast to several of McCoy's Milestone records which share a certain level of sameness ("Together", "Focal Point", etc.) and seemed on some level to merely be "marathons to top other marathons" of modal soloing, this recording shows Tyner and his band playing with a more holistic musical sense. The rewards are a more diverse musical program that is less encumbered by modal cliches, and a plainly more spontaneous feeling in contrast to the somewhat mechanical Milestone studio releases.
George Adams is on board here, and for some that may be enough to convince that this is probably worth checking out. Indeed, Adams' playing here is fiery and intense, and on "Fly With The Wind" (a Tyner staple that gained most notoriety through its big band manifestation), Adams takes a solo that is remarkable for its reconciling of a purely soulful quality to the modal dogma of Tyner's music. Tyner's solo here, by contrast, seems detached and most concerned with maintaining intensity at all costs, even at the expense of revealing any emotional vulnerability it would seem. All music is a form of theater on some level however, and perhaps in this sense, McCoy Tyner played the role of “the stoic” vis a vis his band’s more patently expressive soloists like Adams.
Of course, McCoy Tyner is hardly a soulless musician, and on his solo feature of Naima, he shows the penchant for romanticism and lyrical sensitivity that he was to make his name on in solo recordings of later years. This is a relatively brief edition of Naima in compared to Tyner's effort on a record like "Echoes of a Friend" (a rather "herculean" solo piano venture to say the least), but it exudes a certain understatement that is rather unique in comparison to other examples. Certainly, Naima was a tune that McCoy took to as much as his former boss John Coltrane (composer) had in his career.
The most beautiful and striking piece on this record is the opening track, “Hand in Hand.” Built on a very simple melody (that itself sounds reminiscent of a very familiar African folk melody), this involves little soloing outside of a hand percussion intro but is a very emotionally engaging piece. It has the feel of something akin to a national anthem as the same melody is repeated, over and over again, but layers of instruments- including the human voice, are added, and the timbre of the ensemble sound becomes increasingly complex. Moreover, as the music develops an emotional quality of deep assuredness and unity amongst the parts becomes tangible. There’s clearly something to be said for melodic persistance in this case.
While the simple folk melody of “Hand in Hand” is successful as a novelty of sorts, Tyner's ability to write epic-sounding, uplifting modal themes goes unquestioned by this reviewer. Tyner as a writer simply knew how to push the buttons of those who yearned for a powerful, epic sound that was “inspirational” in some sense of the word. The music certainly generates idealistic associations; “Fly With The Wind” feels just like that, whether one is conscious of the title or not. Indeed, the producers for the Olympic committee should have considered commissioing Tyner at some point. The ending of “Fly with The Wind” here, however, never would have flown with the Olympics- it gets a little too “out there” as McCoy thunders on prepared piano vis a vis the mysterious musings of Joe Ford and George Adams on flute and the percussive questions posed by the hands of Sonship. This is actually quite a hip moment, as rare as it seemed for Tyner’s band to get, well, all "quiet and weird” on you all of a sudden.
On the note of writing being a strength of Tyner’s music, if one cannot be moved by themes like “Fly with The Wind” or “The Greeting” then there is probably no hope for ever appreciating Tyner. The writing is where the whole Tyner “sound” begins and sets the tone for everything that follows. It’s epic themes followed by solos that attempt to soar into the stratosphere. The Coltrane quartet wrote the book on this, and McCoy Tyner spent a good part of his career thereafter in dialogue with what had already been said. And, while there’s not always as broad a range in the expressive qualities of the compositions that one might like (relevant here: the book for the George Adams-Don Pullen quartet), one can’t argue that for what McCoy Tyner did, single-minded as it may have been, he did it as well and as thoroughly as it could have been done.
“Single-minded” of course is the catchword for Tyner’s Milestone period- he was clearly on a mission to advance he and his band’s powerful modal sound, other possibilities be damned. This again though is a document of McCoy Tyner’s band when his outlook didn’t seem quite so single-minded for a moment in time.
The music here is vital and it breathes, and even for those skeptical of his Milestone period, as this reviewer is for the most part, it’s decidely worth checking out. Moreover, if one is only familiar with McCoy from his Blue Notes or early Impulse sides, McCoy's Milestone era is certainly not to be overlooked and this record offers as good an introduction to it as any. If nothing else, McCoy's 70s output offers an important glimpse into the state of the music post-Coltrane. Dated as it may seem on some level today, this music had a definite resonance in the 1970s and the resonance was largely owed to, it would seem, the inspiration of one John Coltrane.
Track Listing: Hand in Hand; Fly With the Wind; Pictures; Naima; The Greeting.
Personnel: McCoy Tyner- piano. George Adams- flute, soprano and tenor saxophones. Joe Ford- flute, alto saxophone. Charles Fambrough- bass. Sonship- drums, orchestra bells. Guilherme Franco- percussion, congas, berimbau.