Reviewing for The Village Voice in 1974, Robert Christgau said the album's best music "breathes with a lushness and lyricism that never cloys". He found the melodies, harmonies, and polyrhythms to be "sensuous without coming on about it" and felt that Tyner's minor flaws as a pianist, including "Tatumesque flourishes", are "less egregious in an ensemble setting like this one."
Pianist McCoy Tyner is heard at the height of his powers throughout this rewarding set. He contributed all five compositions and has a colorful and diverse group of major players at his disposal to interpret them: vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, altoist Gary Bartz, Azar Lawrence on tenor and soprano, John Stubblefield doubling on oboe and flute, bassist Buster Williams, drummer Billy Hart and both Mtume and Guillerme Franco on percussion. The results (which include a brief Tyner-Hutcherson duet on "Above the Rainbow") are quite rewarding and serve as a strong example of McCoy Tyner's music.
Sama Layuca dates from 1974, and sees Tyner in an octet format, teaming up with Lawrence, old duet partner vibist Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Bartz, John Stubblefield and a monster rhythm section of Buster Williams, Billy Hart and percussionists Mtume and Guilherme Franco.
The results are exhilarating; Tyner's compositions are unsurprisingly modal excursions, topped off with faintly exotic horn themes and driven by insistent,afro-latin rhythms. Lawrence (on tenor and soprano) and altoist Bartz are clearly at home; Lawrence'sfruity, robusttenor and airy soprano blends Coltrane's fiery yearning with a floating attack worthy of Wayne Shorter, while Bartz is typically wondrous, full of surprise and fire (check his questing solo on the closing "Paradox").Both players provide an abject lesson in getting the mostout of soloing over one or two chords.
Hutcherson was possibly the only vibist around who could survive in the heat generated by such a lineup. His crystalline voicings are showcased on the two lower key numbers; the impressionistic "Above the Rainbow" (a duet with the leader), and the stately "Desert Cry". Switching to marimba on the hyperspeed latin groove of "La Cubana", Hutcherson more than holds his own, firing off rhythmically twisty, harmonically probing lines before playing call and response with Franco's cowbells.
Tyner's playing walks his usual line between tough and tender, from the swelling, limpid arpeggios of "Above the Rainbow" to the percussive splash and dark intervals of his solo on "La Cubana". The expanded lineup holds the pianists's tendency to overcook his solos in check; despite the length of some of the pieces ("Paradox" clocks in at over 16 minutes) this isn't the testosterone fuelled sprawling solofest you might expect. Solos are kept short and sweet, and the frequent shifts in texture and instrumental combinations keep things interesting.
Most of all it's Tyner's rhythmic sense and his powerhouse left hand that provide the excitement when locking with the irresistible grooves that Williams, Hart, Mtume and Franco whip up. I bet there were a few sore fingers after this session, but the music here won't leave your ears sore. Recommended.
All songs composed by McCoy Tyner.
1. "Sama Layuca" - 8:37
2. "Above the Rainbow" - 3:02
3. "La Cubaña" - 10:26
4. "Desert Cry" - 4:57
5. "Paradox" - 16:27
McCoy Tyner: piano
John Stubblefield: oboe, flute
Gary Bartz: alto saxophone
Azar Lawrence: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Bobby Hutcherson: vibes, marimba
Buster Williams: bass
Billy Hart: drums
Guilherme Franco: percussion
James Mtume: percussion