With the release of the latest batch of Rudy Van Gelder Blue Note reissues comes the opportunity to hear vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson on two sessions that demonstrate just how flexible he issomething that continues to define him to this day on projects like the recently-released SFJazz Collective. But unlike SFJazz, which is a true cooperative ensemble, we're talking about Hutcherson the sideman on the '64 date that would become pianist Andrew Hill's Judgement, and here, on pianist McCoy Tyner's '68 session Time for Tyner.
Both sessions are quartet dates featuring vibes, piano, bass, and drumsin this case the rhythm section consists of bassist Herbie Lewis and drummer Freddie Waits. Waits comes to mind these days more as the father of drummer Nasheet Waits, but he was an equally versatile player who appeared on numerous sessions for Tyner, Hubert Laws, Hill, and others before his untimely passing in '89 at the age of 46. The teaming of two chordal instruments raises the possibility of some toe-stepping, but Hutcherson, unlike Gary Burton who emerged around the same time, was always a more linear player. And so while this is texturally lighter than dates featuring a horn in the front line, Hutcherson plays a similar role.
Time for Tyner is situated between two '67 releases, the quartet classic The Real McCoy and octet Tender Moments, and the less-reputed but equally significant Expansionsrecorded a scant three months later with the same rhythm section, but featuring a three-horn front line and Ron Carter on cello. It distinguishes itself as the only session from that two-year period which is not weighted heavily towards Tyner originals.
Tyner's three originals here are characteristic of his writing at the time, logical expansions on the modal approach he honed in his years with John Coltrane. They are equally indicative of why he ultimately left the saxophonist in '65, with Coltrane's shift towards completely unstructured form becoming too extreme for Tyner's more down-the-middle disposition. Still, while songs like the three-over-four polyrhythmic "African Village and the more rhythmically straightforward "Little Madimba may not feel particularly innovative forty years later, with Tyner ultimately becoming one of the most influential pianists to emerge in the last half-century, they're certainly still compelling enough, as is the up-tempo swing of "May Street.
More telling is his take on three standards. Tyner adds a whole-tone vamp to break up the more familiar refrains of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was, while "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top, pared down to a trio, is taken at an uncharacteristically fast tempo with a middle section that returns to modal terrain. The album closes with an open-ended solo rendition of "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face that demonstrates just how liberal Tyner could be within a mainstream context.
While the ensuing years have proven Time for Tyner to be more of a way station than a push forward, it's still fully deserving of the Van Gelder remaster treatment. It's also proof that Tyner's ability to reinvent standards was certainly on par with his own compositional acumen.
Personnel: McCoy Tyner: piano; Bobby Hutcherson: vibes; Herbie Lewis: bass; Freddie Waits: drums.