This was simply a night of beautiful music. For years I have been wanting to hear McCoy Tyner live and it was definitely worth the wait to see him with Charnette Moffett on bass, Eric Harland on drums and Ravi Coltrane on tenor and soprano saxophones. McCoy and this band are really able to take the modal jazz form that became prominent in the late 1950s and early 1960s and make it sound just as new and exciting as it did 45 years ago.
McCoy, now age 65, plays with amazing precision and freedom. On this occasion he only announced one of the seven pieces performed, which was an original that I didn’t catch the name of. This apparent soft-spoken nature was not evident when one listened to his command of the piano. McCoy showed those in attendance that he is a master improviser who can play spacious melodies as well as blazing chromatic runs that push the limits of technical playing on the piano.
Charnette Moffett wore dark shades throughout the night as he anchored the music down and played brilliant solos both with his fingers and with a bow. This was some of the most powerful arco playing that I’ve ever heard. During the third piece, he improvised a solo with the bow that made his bass sound like a bass and drum kit in one. I would guess that in addition to working out on the bass, Charnette spent some long hours playing on his father’s drum kit as a child.
Prior to this show, I had not heard of Eric Harland. If you have not checked him out you don’t know what you are missing. Like Moffett, he impeccably holds the rhythm down while moving in and out of tasteful solos that fit with the overall musical statement. He must be one of the most underrated drummers in improvised music today.
It was great to hear Ravi Coltrane with this collection of musicians. His playing was solid and full of energy. At times he seemed to be cautious about really letting go and stretching out. I suspect that maybe he wanted to be careful about taking too much of the spotlight while being a guest in McCoy’s ensemble. Many have talked about "the big shoes" that Ravi has to fill. I don’t really buy that line of reasoning. It’s up to the listener to be here and in the moment. Ravi really only has his own shoes to fill and he is becoming a strong voice on his chosen instruments.
Overall, this was a memorable evening of improvisational music. The McCoy Tyner Trio (or Quartet if you’re lucky) is an excellent band that you should not hesitate to see if you have the opportunity. I should also point out that the food at the Iridium was great. This is a nice place to have a really good dinner before listening to great live music.