Often I go through all the recordings of a single artist or composer just to remind myself of what I have. The best part is it’s always refreshing and revealing. The latest to be subjected to this routine is McCoy Tyner, one of my favorite jazz pianists. With nine of his CDs in my collection, they represent only a fraction of the seventy-five releases in his discography. One recording, which I haven’t listened to in years, stopped me in my tracks. There’s no question that McCoy is a jazz giant. Every recording, every performance since his days with Miles Davis and John Coltrane has dazzled listeners and other musicians with his pianistic prowess, but this solo album, dedicated to Coltrane, from way back in 1972, is astounding.
First to stand out is Tyner’s amazing rhythmic independence between his left and right hands, a dexterity hard to find. Then you’re hit with the wild and intriguing places he takes each of the five tunes. At only 35, he’s at his height creatively and technically. There’s no knowing where he ends and the piano begins. They are completely bound together in a metaphysical loop. Tyner and the piano have generated a maelstrom spiraling out of the recording to scoop us up into his whirling imagination. It’s 47 minutes of highs and lows, of chromatic and polyrhythmic waves of passion.
I suspect the inspiration behind Tyner at this junction in his life was the confluence of Coltrane’s death, only five years previous, and the reconciliation with African roots that was strongly influencing jazz during the ’60s & ’70s. You can hear him bringing these influences together. You can hear his soul pushing him to give more. You can hear him plumbing the depths of his sorrow and the heights of his joy in remembrance of John. The solitude of a solo studio recording, without distraction from an audience, without interaction with other musicians, allows an artist to curl up into their own private space. His intense introspection penetrates through the miles of wire, electronics, and space-time that separate us from the original performance of 40 years ago.
The tunes on the CD are Naima, Promise, My Favorite Things, The Discovery, Folks. McCoy stretches out on each of them to develop his ideas, especially on The Discovery (over 17 minutes). There’s one curiosity. Although it’s billed as “unaccompanied piano solos,” and with little other information on the liner notes, cut 4, The Discovery, opens with a gong. After an extended prelude section it is closed with another gong followed by the introduction of new thematic material via solo vibraphone. Did Tyner play vibes, strike the gong? No explanation is given.
Recorded at Victor Studios in Tokyo, 11-11-1972, it’s obviously analog tape. Plenty of tape hiss accompanies the music, but despite the hiss, it’s a testament to how good analog can be when done to high standards and well remastered to digital. Tamaki Bekku’s engineering and Gary Hobish’s remastering save the day for us to enjoy it musically and sonically.
(||) Rating — Music : A ║ Performance : A+ ║ Recording : B ║ Echoes of a Friend, McCoy Tyner, Milestone Records, © 1972, 1991