Danilo Perez and Friends Celebrate McCoy Tyner: Philadelphia, PA, April 14, 2012
Jazz Up Close Series
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
April 14, 2012
In the 2011-2012 concert season, the decade-long Jazz Up Close series curated by artistic director Danilo Perez has featured tributes to legendary Philadelphia jazz musicians, including the Heath Brothers, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, and in this final Spring concert, McCoy Tyner. One might have expected that Tyner himself would perform, but he has limited his engagements recently, possibly on account of his age and health. Danilo Perez and his group, however, ably recapitulated Tyner originals with graceful nods to his playing style and arrangements. Thankfully, rather than imitating him, Perez' quartet extended the Tyner approach to their own contemporary improvisations, largely reflecting Perez' own Latin accents. The overall effect was virtuosic, energetic and musical, with due attention to Tyner's approach but with each musician embodying his own style within the well-coordinated ensemble.
Bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade have been working regularly with Perez in the Wayne Shorter Quartet for several years and were very much in synch with one another from the beginning. Alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett had to feel his way into the group but did so quite competently, and also brought along his own unique ideas and phrasings that added a dimension to the playing. His use of alto rather than tenor or soprano saxophone made it an "almost like" the John Coltrane Quartet affair, accenting the novel take on the music by this consort of top players. At times, Garrett's playing echoed Ornette Coleman more than Coltrane, but he made it work quite well, and when he went with Trane's trademark ascending preacher-like wails, the effect was powerful.
The concert opened with Tyner's "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit" (Enlightenment; Milestone, 1991), with Perez clearly following his own instincts and occasionally plucking the piano strings to add an additional sonority. "Passion Dance" (Passion Dance; Milestone, 1998) brought on intense rhythmic pulsations, creating a trance-like feeling. Perez got the energy flowing with relentless left-hand comping along the lines of Tyner himself, and Patitucci came on with sound and fury, showing his usual mastery of acoustic bass.
"Search for Peace" (The Real McCoy; Blue Note, 1967) and "Blues on The Corner" from the same album, were early compositional forays of Tyner's following his uneasy separation from Trane as the latter ventured into the farther reaches of the avant-garde. The group got into a rhythmic groove that seemed to sustain them but lacked some originality, with Garrett taking up the creative slack at times. Then Perez punctuated the set by inserting a Thelonious Monk tune, "Ask Me Now," which can also be heard on Tyner's recording New York Reunion: McCoy Tyner Quartet (Chesky Records, 1991). Monk's unique syncopation contrasted with the Tyner songs and further illustrated Perez' ability to immerse himself in a great one's style and make it his own. Perez is a master musician in a tradition that goes back as far as Mozart: composer, arranger, musician, and entrepreneur all in one, accomplishing it all with great capability and finesse. In this performance his personal demeanor was more serious than his usual light persona, and he didn't announce the titles of the pieces, for reasons that only he knows.
The concert appeared to end at this point, and the group came on stage for an informal post-performance conversation about McCoy Tyner. They all have had personal contact with him at one time or another and recalled being awestruck by his presence as well as his praise of their own playing. Indeed, Tyner has always been both an imposing figure and one who is capable of relaxed friendliness. The affection these men had for him was undeniable.
The audience was pleasantly surprised when the group reconvened to perform two additional Tyner originals: "Ballad for Aisha" (McCoy Tyner: Together; Fantasy Records, 2006) and "La Cubana" (McCoy Tyner / Sama Lyuca: La Cubana (Fantasy Records, 2006). The former was hauntingly beautiful, and the latter rocked Latin-style into the night, just the way a great concert should end. This was a concert where everyoneplayers and audienceended up satisfied and well-stuffed.
Photo Credit Victor L. Schermer