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McCoy Tyner: Guitars

Mark F. Turner By

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Sometimes musicians make strange studio-fellows. When the esteemed pianist McCoy Tyner teams up with an illustrious rhythm section (drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Ron Carter) and five diverse and highly noted guitarists—(Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, John Scofield, Derek Trucks and virtuoso banjoist, Bela Fleck)—the result is very special.

Tyner's legacy is well documented as a pioneer, an integral part of the John Coltrane Quartet, whose recordings included A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965) and his many releases from the 1960s to 2007's Quartet (Half Note Records). Thriving for over half a century, he is no stranger to music that has at times centered in the mainstream, pushed the envelope, or travelled beyond the outer limits. His pursuance and sense of adventurism are still present in Guitars.

The tricky formula of Tyner in varied recording sessions with these guitar personalities finds him absorbing, extracting, and channeling their different styles into music that is a refreshing extension of his many abilities.

Abstract muses are to be expected from the axe of Marc Ribot yet Tyner provides his own free non-tonal ideas on their duo improvisations. Along with some progressive swing-rock in "Passion Dance" and modal blues in "500 Miles" as both artists display their disparate yet unified abilities in performing in or outside of the box.

Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." and Tyner's "Blues on the Corner," performed with John Scofield, are the most fun. Toe tapping, finger snapping sessions; the guitarist stretching out with his identifiable picking as Tyner delivers an encyclopedic blues, gospel, and bop master-class.

And then there's some unfamiliar territory. Bela Fleck continues to tear down the preconceptions of banjo and jazz on "My Favorite Things" and Derek Trucks juke-joints it hard on "Slapback Blues," his nasty slide technique smooth, hot and dry, like a shot of liquor going down as Tyner shreds accordingly, at ease in any idiom.

The last three tracks with Bill Frisell are demure but potent. The guitarist and pianist indulge in peaceful conversations of lyricism and mood on Tyner's classic "Contemplation" and Frisell's hypnotic new-blue-grass take on Boubacar Traore's "Baba Drame." As to be expected, Carter and DeJohnette are in usual exemplary form, providing the drive and the bottom with taut rhythms and pulsating solos.

And if these audible alliances with Tyner weren't enough, there's visual proof on the DVD (including multi-angle viewing) with over three hours of commentary and performances. Seeing the recording process reveals many insights into Tyner's continued vitality and willingness to try new things. Here's hoping there's more experimenting from the great pianist in the near future.

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, 2, 3, 6); John Scofield: guitar (4, 5); Bela Fleck: banjo (7, 8, 9); Derek Trucks: guitar (10, 11); Bill Frisell: guitar (12, 13, 14).

Title: Guitars | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Half Note Records

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