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McCoy Tyner Rests in Powerful Memories

Posted by Rick Frystak, April 1, 2020 08:01pm | Post a Comment

McCoy Tyner Enlightenment

By Rick Frystak
McCoy Tyner is a huge influence in my own musical life, and not just his physique (more on that later). Mostly as he was playing WITH John Coltrane and others, not BEHIND them, or supporting them. Whomever he played with, it was a BAND. 'Tranes group, of course as with many quartets, quintets (all of Van Gelder’s wonderful Blue Note work comes to mind), displaying his exceptional chordal prowess, especially when I could hear what he would do with 4ths and 5ths of the root note to set up a mood of mystery, swing or ANY place that he and the band wanted to go with the tune and the intervals. THEY, as a band could use. But those were HIS chords. He owned them. His passing has more depth to me as time passes. And the really raw power that man had in his hands, running down the wood onto the wires! It was clear that he was destined for greatness, and already being great because of his strength of originality.

Even though she came after McCoy in John’s group, Alice Coltrane was the logical extension of McCoy’s sound, but with naturally, a gentler touch, and therefore a direction of the tonal aspect of the band. And Mr. Tyner’s hand size could be compared to first-baseman’s mitts in size. As in, HUGE! And just by the way she stood, one could tell that Alice had a shy sensitivity that magic-carpeted the sound to its NEXT phase, post-Live In Seattle period. In fact, Live at the Village Vanguard Volume 2 is one of this group's finest hours, and if a finer Impulse! master exists someplace, or any outtakes, I would go nuts hearing it. God forbid it was in the UNI vaults and therefore the fires...

I shall never ever forget the singular time I witnessed McCoy in concert, the feeling of sitting there in that seat. It was at a club under the Redondo Beach pier, called Concerts By The Sea. Records have been made there, as it was owned by Howard Rumsey, and it was up on the pier previous to being UNDER the pier. McCoy had a powerhouse of a band then about the time of Focal Point, with Eric Gravatt on drums, Gary Bartz or Sonny Fortune (?) on alto and Charles Fambrough on double bass and Guillaume Franco on percussion. The concert seemed nothing like the LP, as if the mastering was too difficult to capture this power I speak of. Anyway, between McCoy and Eric, the front row of seats were literally blown away-the folks sitting there moved back about 3 rows, and thirsty! Doubly frustrating was the fact than in the U-shape seating there were only ten rows of seats in each section, maybe 75 seats. And add to this the very powerful presence of Mr. Gravatt on drums, fresh off the Live in Tokyo trip by Weather Report, edited down to side 2 of I Sing The Body Electric; another fantastic showcase of over-driven-Rhodes/drums/The Wayne/The Miroslav. And Eric with his 90-degree cymbal position of jazz cat lore complete with Frank Zappa hype sticker you do not see many of those). Gravatt truly has his own co-Alphonse Mouzon-ish style that fits so well with McCoy’s. It’s another match made in the cosmos. It is as if McCoy’s Sahara album is live right here and now.  Frank Zappa sticker

The club had a twelve or 15-foot grand piano with a sound that brought to mind a large, well-equalized amplifier or a Xenakis piano piece, with tonally matched high end. It sounded quite good! As I said, he proceeded to rake the first 3 or 4 rows of each section over the coals of cool. Like, BRAVO! Not to say that the rest of the place wasn’t getting off on what was happening before their very ears, but this was special-very, very much so, and we knew it. And that power. It starts in the brain. The ferocious talking-to-God energy as it felt like to me, starting the set with Fly With The Wind. (Cecil Taylor was someone else I had witnessed with that kind of juice) So to say to the universe, ‘’rest in...’’, the word ‘’peace’’ would not be the word of choice now. Or, he could be as gentle as a soft mist (see Wayne Shorter’s Infant Eyes (on the Wayne Shorter LP Speak No Evil LP). How does a person get a piano to sound like this? McCoy Tyner. His presence in the studio had to be a colossal factor, as those vibes go far and wide when improvisation of this high order is at stake. (Van Gelder was known to RUN into the studio and brow-beat anyone who so much as TOUCHED his mic placement - Glyn Johns)  We’ll never know, as McCoy has passed on to the next world, but his Impulse! projects alone paint a picture of a man on a quest. Just some album titles Extensions, my all-time fave with Alice and Wayne, Sama Layuca, Atlantis, Asante, Inception, Song for My Lady, and Enlightenment will show much of what was happening in the man’s head. And as I say, I was never fortunate enough to see Coltrane with Tyner playing together, but what he brought to us that night in Rumsey’s club was just cosmic brilliance, with no bullshit added. 

So, fly on, Mr. Tyner and we'll meet on the other side. I wonder what THAT'S like?

My favorite Mccoy Tyner-led LPs or session member: 
Extensions, my all-time fave with Alice and Wayne, Super Trios, Sama LayucaAtlantis, Asante, InceptionSong for My Lady, and Enlightenment.

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Mccoy Tyner (5), John Coltrane (25), Alice Coltrane (4), Jazz (153)