Thursday, September 28, 2017

McCoy Tyner - 1967 [1999] "The Real McCoy"

The Real McCoy is the seventh album by jazz pianist McCoy Tyner and his first released on the Blue Note label. It was recorded on April 21, 1967 following Tyner's departure from the John Coltrane Quartet and features performances by Tyner with Joe Henderson, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones. Producer Alfred Lion recalls the recording session as a "pure jazz session. There is absolutely no concession to commercialism, and there's a deep, passionate love for the music embedded in each of the selections".

In the liner notes, Tyner talks about the pieces selected for this album. The titles for "Passion Dance" and "Contemplation" came to the pianist only after he'd written the pieces. Whilst the former sounds like "a kind of American Indian dance, evoking trance-like states", the latter has "the sound of a man alone. A man reflecting on what religion means to him, reflecting on the meaning of life." Tyner titled the fourth piece "Search for Peace" because of its tranquil feeling; it "has to do with a man's submission to God" and the "giving over of the self to the universe". The album closes with an upbeat, merry piece called "Blues on the Corner", a reminiscent musical portrait of Tyner's childhood: "When I was growing up in Philadelphia, some of the kids I knew liked to hang out on the corner [...] youngsters talking, kidding around, jiving.

Two and a half years after his last recording as a leader for Impulse, pianist McCoy Tyner emerged to start a period on Blue Note that would result in seven albums. Having left John Coltrane's Quartet in late 1965, Tyner was entering a period of struggle, although artistically his playing grew quite a bit in the late '60s. For this release, the pianist is teamed with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Elvin Jones for five of his originals. Highlights of the easily recommended album include "Passion Dance," "Four by Five," and "Blues on the Corner."

When someone uses the word “idyllic” to describe a scene, we think of Monet’s Water Lillies or another classic of impressionism – a work in summery shades that pretty much demands a daydream. But there are different kinds of idylls – as “Search For Peace,” one of five McCoy Tyner originals here, suggests. The tempo is slow, stately, deliberate. The harmony, outlined first by piano trills and broken chords, has purpose behind it: The title implies an ongoing and perhaps unattainable quest, not some easily abandoned momentary pursuit. The theme, when it arrives, enhances this sense – it’s at once solemn like a hymn, and contemplative, and also floatingly free. It puts forth an idealistic vision of what “peace” might feel like, and in the same breath holds the full awareness of possible (likely) futility. Crucially, it’s not the jingoistic sloganeering of a peace rally; it’s a meditation on the potentiality of peace, and what it means to pursue it.

Of course “peace” as a concept meant something different on April 22, 1967 than it does today. When Tyner and his group gathered at Rudy Van Gelder’s place to record this landmark, war was raging in Vietnam and the social upheavals over civil rights, race and the fast-emerging hippie culture were simmering throughout America. The jazz community responded to this heady time in all kinds of ways – song titles became commentary, and inevitably the “heat” of the cultural moment informed recordings and performances. Tyner, who departed from the Coltrane group in 1965, evidently felt that there was a need for music that looked inward and invited reflection. In Nat Hentoff’s original liner notes, the pianist explains that when he wrote the piece, he perceived it as outlining a spiritual mission, “the giving over of the self to the universe.”

The Real McCoy is Tyner’s Blue Note debut, and though it starts in a frenzied mood with “Passion Dance,” much of it finds the pianist and composer creating zones of reflection, offering musical refuge from the tumult of the times. Tyner has said that he left the Coltrane group because of its increasingly chaotic dissonance; his compositions here utilize the open block-chord harmonies Coltrane loved, channeled into tightly focused rhapsodies. There is a vibe of serenity in the writing, not just in the ascending theme of “Search for Peace,” but also the gentle, affirmative modal journey entitled “Contemplation” – this album contains five tunes, and two of them are riveting downtempo ballads. The other three are equally poised and thoughtful, and each is defined by its own internal logic. “Passion Dance” is an essay in rhythmic upheaval: Tyner’s spikes and Elvin Jones’ jabs establish an obstacle course, and the challenge for tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson is to navigate the shifting patterns while creating a cogent ad-libbed testimony. (Of the many Blue Note sessions featuring strong work by Henderson, this might be his shining hour, in part because of his patient impossible-to-notate inventions on “Passion Dance” and “Contemplation.”) “Four By Five” offers polyrhythmic daring in a different hue, while the entrancingly settled “Blues on the Corner,” the session’s lone blues, suggests that even this formidable group understood the importance of kicking back once in a while.

The peak statement of Tyner’s solo career, The Real McCoy is also one of a handful of recordings that define hard bop. Lots of records from this genre have interesting tunes and blazing solo performances, but few attain such an interconnected synergy. Listening to these these rich, beautifully realized atmospheres, and how they inspire deep, passionate, strikingly collective improvisations, you realize we are far removed from the anxieties – and the idealistic quests for peace – that governed 1967. That’s a mixed blessing.

Tyner first appeared on the scene in 1960 with the Golson/ Farmer Jazztet, moving to the John Coltrane Quartet for most of the early sixties up to 1965, when Coltrane  was becoming more atonal and free. Tyner is said to have been unhappy about that change in direction: “I didn’t see myself making any contribution to that music… All I could hear was a lot of noise. I didn’t have any feeling for the music, and when I don’t have feelings, I don’t play.” (So, I guess that is him and me both)

Tyner released six of his own titles whilst under contract to Impulse up to 1964 , and after leaving Coltrane, recorded for Blue Note with many bop greats in their second wind, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Stanley Turrentine, Lou Donaldson and Bobby Hutcherson. In 1967, he recorded this, his first title for Liberty/ Blue Note, The Real McCoy, followed by a string of albums: Tender Moments, Time for Tyner, Expansions, Extensions,  and Cosmos, you can tell by the meditative album titles where this was heading: Enlightenment.

Track listing:

"Passion Dance" – 8:47
"Contemplation" – 9:12
"Four by Five" – 6:37
"Search for Peace" – 6:32
"Blues on the Corner" – 5:58


McCoy Tyner - piano
Joe Henderson - tenor saxophone
Ron Carter - bass
Elvin Jones - drums