Guitars is an album by McCoy Tyner released on his McCoy Tyner Music (a subsidiary of Half Note Records) label in 2008. It was recorded in September 2006 and features performances by Tyner, Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette with guitarists Marc Ribot, John Scofield, Béla Fleck, Derek Trucks, and Bill Frisell. The album also contains a DVD featuring video footage of the studio sessions.
This is McCoy Tyner's second release on his own label, and it is odd, to say the least. Around the fixed trio of the pianist, Ron Carter on drums and Jack DeJohnette on drums, one of today's leading guitarists is added to form a quartet : first Marc Ribot, then John Scofield, Belà Fleck, Steve Trucks and ending with Bill Frisell. All six guitarists are of course stylistically totally different, although they kind of accomodate McCoy here. The end result is at best entertaining, fun to hear, with great musicians showing some of their skills. But it's not great music, just good. The playing is good, the music a little boring. And at times it's even a little pathetic, like when Belà Fleck plays "My Favorite Things" on his banjo. It is all a little bit sad : it lacks musical vision and creativity, and I hate to say this about a musician for whom I've always had the greatest esteem. Yet if you like to hear jazz guitar in its many variations, you might like this, although it adds nothing to these musicians' already vast list of albums. Well, maybe. It's the first time I hear Ribot play in such a conventional jazzy fashion (on "500 Miles").
Ah, but McCoy had one more twist for this one-of-a-kind record: he let the guitarists themselves decide which two or three songs they wanted to play with Tyner’s trio. Tyner was clearly interested in getting his guest six string slingers firmly invested in his project.
These guitarists were also given a lot of lead parts, often being the ones who state the main melody instead of Tyner. So much so, that sometimes Tyner is virtually a sideman on his own record. However, few can play that supporting role as well he does, and his presence is always felt. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Tyner shows a somewhat lighter touch on the piano than what he’s normally known for.
As to each of the collaborations, they’ve all worked out reasonably well, but some better than others. John Scofield previously duet-ed with Tyner on a couple of tracks for Tyner’s otherwise solo piano record Things Ain’t What They Used To Be from 1989.
Scofield chose two classic compositions from Tyner’s sixties period. “Mr. P.C.” is one that is tied to Tyner via his stint with ‘Trane. Scofield does yeoman’s work, even if he sounds a little stiff at first, then loosens up nicely after a while. His other selection is a Tyner standard, “Blues On The Corner,” a great tune, but a it’s pretty pedestrian rendering.
Bela Fleck’s contributions stand out from the others, as expected, simply because he’s playing an instrument foreign to a jazz trio. However, Fleck chose some tunes that provided a good setting for both himself and the pianist. The first two are Fleck’s own compositions “Trade Winds” and “Amberjack,” and the Broadway song made famous by Coltrane, “My Favorite Things.” Both Tyner and Fleck play surprisingly well together, but Dejohnette’s outstanding kit work on the latter two that also got my attention. for his part, Fleck seems much at ease with Tyner and the two blended together their playing effectively.
The Allman Brothers’ Derek Trucks came to the session with Tyner’s “Slapback Blues,” which is a logical choice since Trucks comes to jazz via the blues and Tyner’s own conception of jazz is blues-based. Trucks is clearly in his element and shines on his solo turn. “Greensleeves” is performed in much the same way that “My Favorite Things” is, and Tyner puts in a particularly crisp solo.
Like Bela Fleck, Bill Frisell also came to the proceedings with a couple of his own tunes in hand: The mystical, rhythm-less “Boubacar” and “Baba Drame,” which with it’s extended world music groove evokes Tyner’s excellent early seventies Milestone work. But for the third piece, Frisell, like Scofield, digs up a superb selection from Tyner’s 1967 Blue Noter The Real McCoy, “Contemplation.” And once again, it’s solid but not exceptional. Frisell’s playing is subdued throughout, preferring to play a texturist role than a true lead part.
Bela Fleck notwithstanding, the most successful pairing overall was one I would have least expected: that experimental, John Zorn/Tom Waits kind of guy Marc Ribot. Ribot is more than those things, naturally, but while he suppressed his rough edges for this meeting, he was nonetheless the most creative and nonconformal of the lot.
The traditional piece “500 Miles” is made new again with Ribot’s arrangement, which isn’t too much unlike the way Coltrane might have handled it when Tyner was in his band. Subtly but effectively using pedal effects, Ribot’s guitar is both stinging and soulful. “Passion Dance” is worth listening to just to hear Ribot’s fuzz guitar pair up with Tyner’s forceful left hand. The guitarist’s rock solo sounds a bit out of place, but the backing trio is so muscular, they don’t get overwhelmed like most other acoustic backing units would.
All compositions by McCoy Tyner except were indicated
"Improvisation 2" (Marc Ribot, Tyner) – 1:34
"Passion Dance" – 6:10
"500 Miles" (Traditional) – 6:22
"Mr. P.C." (John Coltrane) – 6:21
"Blues on the Corner" – 6:07
"Improvisation 1" (Ribot, Tyner) – 3:46
"Trade Winds" (Bela Fleck) – 6:35
"Amberjack" (Fleck) – 4:36
"My Favorite Things" (Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers) – 7:01
"Slapback Blues" – 3:46
"Greensleeves" (Traditional) – 6:15
"Contemplation" – 7:55
"Boubacar" (Bill Frisell) – 2:18
"Baba Drame" (Boubacar Traoré) – 5:21
McCoy Tyner – piano
Bill Frisell – guitar (tracks 12, 13 & 14)
Marc Ribot – guitar (tracks 1, 2, 3 & 6)
John Scofield – guitar (tracks 4 & 5)
Derek Trucks – guitar (tracks 10 & 11)
Béla Fleck – banjo (tracks 7, 8 & 9)
Ron Carter – double bass
Jack DeJohnette – drums