Monday, July 29, 2013

McCoy Tyner-Soliloquy

Heroes give us inspiration to achieve our own goals. One of my heroes is pianist McCoy Tyner. I've been inspired by his piano playing for as long as I've been listening to jazz. I first heard Tyner on the John Coltrane album "My Favorite Things." It's interesting because I used to listen to the title track quite often; Tyner's piano solo on this track is much more meditative than what most listeners have come to expect from a McCoy Tyner piano solo. It wasn't until I heard "A Love Supreme" and Freddie Hubbard's "Ready For Freddie" did I start to really understand. After hearing things like "The Real McCoy" and "Supertrios" and "Expansions" and "Inception" and Coltrane's "Live At Birdland" and "Impressions" and Wayne Shorter's "Ju Ju" and so forth, I was really hooked.

When I was just starting to get serious about jazz piano, I was what you might call a McCoy Tyner "clone." A saxophonist named Phil Burlin wrote a song called "Colligan's Groove" which was essentially a catalyst for my McCoy Tyner imitation. As much as I loved what I believed to be Tyner's conception, I felt as though I need to move on to other influences. In essence, I had to STOP listening to McCoy Tyner. I know other musicians who had similar realizations; for example, another pianist had the same issue with Herbie Hancock. I believe it's important for musicians to have at least a handful of influences; that way, your source material is more varied, and you end up sounding more original than if you only check out one or two players.

All that being said, I suppose that the Tyner influence will always be a part of my playing. Furthermore, there is so much Tyner that I haven't checked out; perhaps surprisingly, there are times when Tyner takes different approaches than the muscular pounding we have come to expect from him. For example, I saw Tyner performing solo piano in the early 90's; he played standards, ballads, stride piano, and was actually rather laid back. That performance was a real lesson for me.

I was turned on to a wonderful solo piano recording of Tyner's called "Soliloquy." Marcia Hocker, a
Marcia Hocker
DJ on Portland's jazz radio station KMHD, told me several times about how much she adored this recording. Finally, she was kind enough to actually bring me a copy. I've been listening to it since then. It's given me a whole new reason to be obsessed with McCoy Tyner's music.

"Soliloquy" was released on Blue Note in 1992. It's an interesting recording for a number of reasons. It sounds as though it was recorded with the microphones somewhat far from the strings of the instrument, more like the way many classical piano recordings are made. There is a lot of room sound. The tone Tyner achieves is completely even, and it's somewhat darker overall from what you might be accustomed to. We are used to hearing Tyner with a rhythm section, so we know about Tyner's rhythm. However, even alone, his time is impeccable, but also, he has a really beautiful sense of rubato; tunes like "Tribute To Lady Day", "After The Rain", and "Twilight Mist" would rival the solo recordings of Bill Evans in terms of sensitivity.

Tyner has enough variety to sustain one's attention throughout; there's a tune called "Espanola" which begins with an almost classical touch, but then builds into a Spanish-tinged romp, but with a lot of dynamic contrast. There are some old favorites like "Effendi", 'Three Flowers" and Coltrane's "Crescent." It's super cool to hear how Tyner approaches tunes like "All The Things You Are," and "Bouncing With Bud,"lest you thing that Tyner is only capable of modal excursions; he has way more depth than he is given credit for.

"Soliloquy" is available here.

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