Saturday, April 28, 2018

McCoy Tyner Trio [Feat. Michael Brecker] - 1995 "Infinity"

Infinity is an album by McCoy Tyner released on the Impulse! label in 1995. It was recorded in April 1995 and features performances by Tyner with Michael Brecker, Avery Sharpe, Aaron Scott and Valtinho Anastacio. The album won the 1996 Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance (Individual or Group), while Michael Brecker won the Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for the track "Impressions".

It seems only fitting that the initial new release on the latest revival of the Impulse label features McCoy Tyner and Michael Brecker. When Impulse started out in 1960, John Coltrane and Tyner were the first artists to be signed, and when Impulse was briefly brought back by MCA in the 1980s, two of its most important albums were recordings by Brecker. There are not a lot of surprises on this quartet matchup (with bassist Avery Sharpe and drummer Aaron Scott) except perhaps for how well Tyner and Brecker mesh together. The music is somewhat similar to a set by the pianist's regular trio with a solo piece ("Blues Stride"), a generous amount of Tyner originals and colorful versions of Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" and "Good Morning Heartache," but Brecker's presence and consistently powerful playing does inspire Tyner and his sidemen. For a strong example as to why today's saxophonists have such a high opinion of Michael Brecker, his roaring statement on the extended "Impressions" will suffice. Highly recommended.

This is one of my favorites when in the mood for high intensity tenor sax. While I like the entire album (great musicians, good mix of songs) two particular cuts simply blow me away: Flying High (another fine McCoy Tyner composition) and Impressions (Coltrane classic). On those two cuts Michael Brecker shows why he is one of the best all-time tenor sax players. His incredible tone, phrasing, and intensity on those songs are some of the best sax work I have ever heard. I find myself sitting with jaw dropped in disbelief at Brecker's solos. Tyner as always provides beautiful backup for his sax bandmate as well as fine solo work. I can't imagine any fan of real jazz that wouldn't like this album.

There are so many great McCoy Tyner albums (I have about 25, am impressed by all of them, and still feel as if I'm missing a bunch of classics) that it can be a challenge to choose among them. A couple of early Blue Note titles are universally-acknowledged classics -- 1967's The Real McCoy, in a quartet with Joe Henderson, and 1968's Time for Tyner, a quartet with Bobby Hutcherson. Other than that, his best-known albums are probably from his time making high-energy Afrocentric music on the Milestone label during the 1970s -- albums like Sahara (1972), Enlightenment (1973), and the dazzling solo testament Echoes of a Friend (1972) are frequently recommended to Tyner beginners.

This one is from 1995 and it finds Tyner back "home," on Impulse Records where he started his career, and in a quartet format modeled on the one that brought him to fame, with John Coltrane in the early '60s. The comparison is further invited by the presence of the late Michael Brecker, a player of awesome power and unparalleled technical excellence for whom Coltrane was the obvious main influence. Brecker first came to notice playing breezy funk with his brother Randy in the '70s,and then as a session musician; he had a slow road to carving out the edgy jazz credentials that he's now best remembered for. Although his high register sound and sweeping figures unmistakably evoke Coltrane, his snub-nosed tone in the middle register suggests a close study of Dexter Gordon.

Brecker more or less steals the show here. Brecker plays some of the best solos I've heard by him on "Flying High," the Monk chestnut (one of Tyner's favorites) "I Mean You," the grooving "Mellow Minor," and of course Coltrane's "Impressions." Tyner brings some nice original compositions to the table -- "Mellow Minor" in particular is up there with his classics, somewhat reminiscent of "Fly with the Wind" -- and a couple that are a little more rote, such as "Happy Days" (amusingly, or annoyingly, based on "Deck the Halls").

Track listing
All compositions by McCoy Tyner except where noted.

1. "Flying High" - 10:14
2. "I Mean You" (Hawkins, Monk) - 7:19
3. "Where Is Love" - 5:31
4. "Changes" - 9:46
5. "Blues Stride" - 3:38
6. "Happy Days" - 9:42
7. "Impressions" (Coltrane) - 11:13
8. "Mellow Minor" - 5:26
9. "Good Morning Heartache" (Drake, Fisher, Higginbotham) - 9:21

Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, April 12 (track 1 & 6), 13 (tracks 4, 7 & 8) and 14 (tracks 2, 3, 5 & 9), 1995


McCoy Tyner – piano
Michael Brecker – tenor saxophone
Avery Sharpe – bass
Aaron Scott – drums
Valtinho Anastacio – congas, percussion