Growing up in the same Philadelphia neighborhood as pianists Richie and Bud Powell and Bobby Timmons, as well as trumpeter Lee Morgan, saxophonist Archie Shepp, and bassist Reggie Workman, McCoy Tyner's
path seemed set from an early age. Encouraged by his mother he took up the piano and was leading his own jazz group by age fifteen. After a stint as the first pianist with the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet
, Tyner became famous as a member of the John Coltrane Quartet
with Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, appearing on such classic recordings as A Love Supreme,
and My Favorite Things.
Since leaving that group in 1965, Tyner has built a career as pianist, composer, bandleader, and, eventually, jazz icon, issuing a stream of recordings including Sahara
, which received two Grammy nominations and was named 'Album of the year' in the Down Beat
Critics Poll. He is still going strong at age 66. Counterpoints
documents a "Live Under The Sky" Festival concert in Tokyo, Japan in July of 1978. If you enjoy Tyner's approach to the keyboard you will certainly enjoy this recording.
Tyner's style is unmistakable, highly percussive, rhythmically intense, filled with vamps, pedal points, quartal and quintal harmonies, and pentatonic scales. "I do not know a modern jazz pianist who is not influenced by him," states saxophonist Michael Brecker. "He gets a very personal sound from his instrument," according to Coltrane, "because of the clusters he uses and the way he voices them." All of these features of his style are on display on this session, and if you enjoy it this recording is definitely for you because it is all piano; Aisha
and Sama Layuca
are piano solos, and Prelude To A Kiss
a duet with bassist Carter. Personally, I prefer Tyner's work in a larger ensemble. Apart from his work with Coltrane, he has led ensembles with sidemen such as vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, trumpeters Terence Blanchard, and Freddie Hubbard, saxophonists Joe Henderson, Sonny Fortune, Azar Lawrence, Michael Brecker, and Gary Bartz, flutist Hubert Laws, and violinist John Blake. My personal favorites are Tyner's classic Blue Note album (0777 7 46512 2 6) The Real McCoy
from 1987, with Joe Henderson, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones and Together
(Milestone M-9087) with Hubbard, Laws, Hutcherson, Stanley Clarke and Jack DeJohnette, recorded shortly after Counterpoints
, in August 1978.
Miles Davis criticized Tyner's playing as lacking dynamic variety. This may have been sour grapes on Davis' part as he regretted losing Coltrane when the tenor player left to form his own group, but he does have a point. Tyner's percussive approach does tend to limit his dynamic range and this can become tiresome. When he shares the stage with other soloists this is not a problem, but fifty minutes of unadulterated pounding are a bit much for me. This is purely personal; there is no doubt that Tyner's piano style is unique. If you want to hear as much of it as possible, buy this recording. Otherwise, exploring Tyner's extensive discography will expose you to some of the greatest jazz players of the last forty years.