McCoy Tyner will forever be saddled with the blessing/curse of being the pianist in the classic John Coltrane Quartet of 1960-1965. There are those who will call it his greatest performance period. It was one of Tyner’s first professional band affiliations and was certainly his most important, though not his first. The Philadelphian played with Lee Morgan and with the Benny Golson-Art Farmer Jazztet previously. He met John Coltrane when Tyner was a 17 year old eager to expand his boundaries. When the call came from Coltrane, he hit the ground running. His work on "My Favorite Things" alone assures his place in the jazz pantheon. Life did not stop when he and Coltrane went their separate ways, however.
By 1972, when he signed with Milestone, he was ready to bloom as a leader of note. Collected works from then through 1980 are included in this superb collection, pointing to Tyner’s eminence as not only performer, but as a formidable arranger and composer.
Opening with "The Greeting," from his 1977 Supertrios collection, Tyner is joined by Ron Carter and Tony Williams, instrumentalists who shared his lofty position at the top of the jazz world. The results are predictably jaw-dropping. The interplay between the three is symbiotic and fevered.
On Freddie Hubbard’s "One Of Another Kind," from 1978’s Together, he works together with trumpeting icon Hubbard, Hubert Laws, here on flute, tenorist Benny Maupin, vibe master Bobby Hutcherson, and electric bass pioneer Stanley Clarke, drummer supreme Jack DeJohnette and percussionist Bill Summers. Again, the interplay between the pianist and his session mates is seamless.
The beautiful rendition of Coltrane’s "Naima" is performed unaccompanied with a dramatic and delightful flair, almost Erroll Gardner-ish at times. This is followed by the 9 minute "Ebony Queen," breathtaking in its intensity, tempo and brilliance. Tyner’s touch is strong and the accompaniment striking. Sonny Fortune’s Coltrane influence is conspicuous in his extraordinary soprano solo. Alphonse Mouzon’s drumming and Calvin Hill’s bass set a strong foundation off of which Tyner and Fortune weave their considerable tandem magic.
"Sama Layuca" is a Tyner classic and the centerpiece of the collection. With Gary Bartz and Azar Lawrence on alto and soprano respectively, John Stubbelefield playing both oboe and flute, Bobby Hutcherson at the always impressive vibraphone, the masterful Buster Williams on bass and a percussion section of Billy Hart (drums), Mtume (conga, drums, percussion), and Guilherme Franco (percussion), this is Tyner at his best. Again, the piano, very percussive in nature here - showcasing his affection for Monk - is propulsive and enticing at the same time.
Following an Azar Lawrence’s intro that reminds of Pharoah Sanders, "Enlightenment Suite, Part 1: Genesis" kicks into a hard faceted waltz that is tantalizing. Lawrence brings his Coltrane influence to the session, as well, and with bassist Joony Booth and drummer Alphonse Mouzon driving, Tyner’s work is dazzling. He is at once outside and in the tradition, always probing and prodding and inevitably finding the notes he seeks.
"Search For Peace," from the 1980 LP 13th House has a Mingus-esque feel throughout, with exciting meshed flugelhorns from Oscar Brashear and Kama Adilifu (Charles Sullivan) and a horn section fleshed out by Slide Hampton (trombone), Hubert Laws and Joe Ford (flutes), Frank Foster (soprano), Ricky Ford (tenor), Greg Williams (french horn), and Bob Stewart (tuba). Combined with bassist Ron Carter, drummer Jack DeJohnette and percussionists Airto and Dom Um Romao, this is a dynamic piece that stands as one of Tyner’s finest compositions. That his performance is so extraordinary makes it the more transfixing.
"Song of the New World," from a 1973 album of the same title, benefits from Hubert Laws and Sonny Fortune’s flutes and piccolos against the backdrop of a full string section. Tyner is both architect and pilot, taking the listener on a tour of the aural secrets inherent in the piece. Joony Booth and Alphonse Mouzon are again foundation on which Tyner and the others work. Tyner builds from an imposing brilliance to driving cascading notes that cajole and delight.
Finally, with accompaniment from Ron Carter and Elvin Jones, there is the closing interpretation of John Coltrane’s "Impressions." These are 5 minutes that cap off a wholly delightful collection. The three race each other, though at a controlled pace that elicits aural smiles.
To call this highly recommended goes without saying. This is a 10-star collection.