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McCoy Tyner: Guitars

Troy Collins By

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Pianist McCoy Tyner's dramatic arpeggios, thunderous bass pulses and modulated chord voicings have inspired generations of aspiring jazz musicians. An acoustic purist who sustained a viable career through the heavily electrified fusion era, Tyner has maintained impressive consistency in his performances and recordings since his seminal tenure in John Coltrane's classic mid-sixties quartet.

Tyner's vast discography includes relatively few guitar wielding side-men; Guitars, then, is unique in Tyner's oeuvre as it contains a rotating roster of high profile guitarists, featuring Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, John Scofield, Derek Trucks and banjo wizard Bela Fleck.

Bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette form Tyner's close-knit rhythm section. Revered masters with a deep-seated rapport decades in the making, their skills are unparalleled; they ease through shifting rhythms, modulating tempos and tricky harmonic changes with effortless grace.

Tyner has never sounded better, his monolithic chords resound with timeless drama while his expansive arpeggios ripple with cosmic intensity; his left hand summons a thunderous undercurrent while his right cuts a kaleidoscopic swath through the undertow.

The array of all-star guitarists encapsulates a veritable cross-section of contemporary styles. Renowned slide-guitar prodigy Derek Trucks of Allman Brothers fame reveals gritty blues intensity and a soulful tone on "Slapback Blues" and a passionate rendition of "Greensleeves."

Trafficking in similarly territory, iconic banjo picker Bela Fleck brings a folksy patina and quicksilver effusiveness to traditional Americana, including a dreamily nostalgic take of "My Favorite Things."

One of today's most distinctive stylists, Bill Frisell's laconic phrasing recalls the deep focus of Coltrane at his most plangent on "Contemplation." "Baba Drame" showcases his facility for hypnotically surreal Malian counter-rhythms and cross-harmonies.

John Scofield is the only guitarist present to have previously recorded with Tyner, appearing on 1989's Things Ain't What They Used To Be (Blue Note). His ebullient, serpentine runs on "Mr. P.C." and buoyant lyricism on "Blues On The Corner" rouse Tyner, Carter and DeJohnette to some of their most spirited playing.

The improbable pairing with Downtown veteran Marc Ribot yields the session's most adventurous results. Two improvised duets feature Tyner and Ribot at their most prickly and experimental, with "Improvisation 1" a breathtaking journey into radiant introspection. "500 Miles" is a quirky yet subtle quartet feature, while "Passion Dance" is a stunning tour-de-force that spotlights Ribot's knotty cadences as they uncoil through abstruse rhythms and vertiginous harmonies.

In addition to the audio CD, the set also comes with a DVD that boasts three cumulative hours of multiple angle/in-the-studio footage, including a full performance with each special guest and the unedited duets with Ribot.

Guitars is a most welcome anomaly in Tyner's discography; this thematically concise yet stylistically diverse session proves without a doubt that he still possesses the visionary spirit that made him a legend.

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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