McCoy Tyner – Jazz Roots

McCoy Tyner McCoy Tyner
Jazz Roots
(Telarc Jazz – 2000)
by John Barrett

The earliest steps toward jazz were made on piano,and stylistic changes begin on that instrument. McCoy Tyner has always been ambitious, and never more than here – into an hour’s time he fits a century of jazz piano. “St. Louis Blues” rumbles, on a weighty left hand; “Ain’t Misbehavin’ strides lazy and warm. All through the melody, McCoy adds little flourishes – he’s showing off in a subtle way.

“Summertime” moves like a slow river: the theme up high, glassy chords beneath. The atmosphere is gorgeous; also true of “Blues for Fatha”, Tyner’s tribute to Earl Hines. With stride beginnings, McCoy slams hard, and modern voicings start to appear. At no time does he duplicate the style of his forbearers; this is history revised buy one who helped write it. So when you hear the old styles, you also hear Tyner, and that is a very good thing.

The songs come in no chronological order; decades and styles co-mingle in surprising fashion. From the lush muscularity of Art Tatum (a great “Sweet and Lovely”) we move to raw power (“Night in Tunisia”, a la Bud Powell) and refined romance (“My Foolish Heart”, in the purest Bill Evans.) “Pannonica” gets the stride treatment, plus a fancy ramble; there are hints of other Monk tunes, including “Crepuscule with Nellie”. It’s got Thelonious’ style, plus a polished glow – you’ll find yourself smiling.

“Lullaby of Birdland” is done in chords, reminding us that Shearing wrote it; “Misty” is even more lush, with hands that strike like lightning. (The final moments are icy-still, and practically perfect.) “Happy Days” rings of classical grandeur, with some blues thrown in. Dedicated to Keith Jarrett, it could be McCoy’s most accurate portrait. And there is a self-portrait: “You Taught My Heart to Sing”, stirred slowly. Romance blooms, in flashy strides and drawing-room elegance. It has many sounds, as Tyner has many roots – from rich foundations he has built a great album.