This is the first, and arguably, the finest big band album the distinguished pianist ever recorded. Six horns are utilized, with the neglected James Spaulding alternating on flute and alto sax along with tenor saxophonist Bennie Maupin, trombonist Julian Priester, trumpeter Lee Morgan, and the exotic horns, with Bob Northern on French horn and Howard Johnson on tuba. There are six Tyner originals gracing the frustratingly brief album (38 minutes). But repeated listening reveals something very subtle and seductive about this 1967 recording. This is an album within an album, one involving a dialogue between Tyner and one player.
The dialogue between Tyner and Morgan is a high water mark in both of their careers. It is made explicit in the sole quartet number appropriately titled "Lee Plus Three," but you can hear a deeply creative conversation between Morgan and Tyner throughout, even on "Mode to John," one of the too many tributes to his former boss Coltrane that Tyner has made throughout his career. The Coltrane touches are navigated by Maupin and Spaulding. Morgan was quite happy to sound wholly like himself. His brassy and fierce solos seem to rise above the happy din of the other horns in arrangements full of more heat than light or space. The sturdy and reliable rhythm section of bassist Herbie Lewis and Joe Chambers keep the affair brightly churning, and the leader plays with characteristic thunder.
The album's title is deceptive. There is only one overtly slow and tender composition steeped in tender romanticism, "All My Yesterdays." The remainder of the record has an attractive and quite aggressive urgency that would mark Tyner's later big band recordings, but the tone here is less stridently sharp than his big band albums with Milestone. A welcome reissue that reveals just how masterful Tyner could be early on with an energetic large ensemble.
Mode to John; Man from Tanganyika; The High Priest; Utopia; All My Yesterdays; Lee Plus Three.
Lee Morgan, Julian Priester, James Spaulding, Bennie Maupin, Bob Northern, Howard Johnson, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Lewis, Joe Chambers.
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