Tyner and his team impress at Yoshi's
By Jim Harrington, STAFF WRITER
THE SHIRT from Aunt Gertrude didn't fit. Cousin Eddy got you a subscription to a magazine that you hate. Dear ol' dad still buys all his gifts for the family at 7-11.
Ah, yes, the holiday season!
Leave it to Yoshi's at Jack London Square to deliver the gift that will please every jazz fan in the family — six nights of the legendary pianist McCoy Tyner.
That is, however, half as much Tyner as local jazz buffs are used to receiving in the wintertime. For 12 glorious years, the swanky jazz-and-sushi club in Oakland presented two-week residencies featuring Tyner and some of the best players in the business.
That run ended, according to the club, because the 69-year-old Philadelphia native is no longer feeling up to performing two straight weeks of shows.
Tyner may need a little more rest these days, but he's still able to deliver in a big way once he gets onstage. The pianist sounded incredibly strong as he opened his Yoshi's run on the night after Christmas. Indeed, his playing was every bit as vibrant and confident as it was during his past five outings at the venue.
As per usual, the pianist is working with a stellar supporting cast for the stand, which concludes with a New Year's Eve show that will be broadcast live by National Public Radio. His sidemen are bassist Christian McBride, saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts.
Tyner and his team opened the show with a bright take on "Mellow Minor," a track that can be found on the pianist's 1995 CD "Infinity." Tyner led the band into the song, crashing the keys with his famously heavy left hand and painting murals of colorful sounds with his right.
Lovano followed with a cheery, concise lead that vibrated with many of the same ideas that Tyner had introduced earlier in the tune. The Ohio-born saxophonist, who turns 54 on Friday, seemed to operate as a co-captain on this team and play a big part in directing the musical traffic. That role was especially important during the occasions when Tyner would take a break, leaving Lovano, Watts and McBride to operate as a trio.
"Mellow Minor" also featured an intriguing duet between Watts and McBride, as well as interesting solos from both men.
Visually, McBride and Watts were an oddball couple. The ultra-cool McBride, well coiffed in a sweater and dress pants, looked like he stepped right out of the pages of GQ and he handled the bass with such style and grace. Watts, with his shirttails hanging out and his hastily knotted tie, looked like he came straight from a bachelor party and played the drums with childlike enthusiasm.
Yet, their contrasting styles were perfectly complementary on "Mellow Minor" and the tune that followed, "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit."
The version of "Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit" on 1973's "Enlightment" is an epic that clocks in at roughly 24 minutes. The version at Yoshi's was no less grand or ambitious. The tune began with a staggeringly good solo from the bandleader, the kind that makes one recall his best work as a member of John Coltrane's seminal quartet of the'60s, and then each of the other players followed with moments that were nearly as memorable.
The band grew stronger as the show went on — a progression one assumes will continue throughout the run. Lovano, a Grammy-winning artist known for such great works as 1994's "Quartets: Live at the Village Vanguard," was really feeling it during the standard "I Should Care."
McBride, for his part, did his best work on the Tyner original "Angelina" as he plucked a fleet-fingered lead that was nearly hot enough to cook all the sashimi on the tables in the first three rows.
Tyner ended the show with a tip of the hat to his old employer as he led his band through Coltrane's "Moment's Notice."
You can count on one hand the number of players that do Coltrane as well as Tyner — and this rousing version of "Moment's Notice" was a perfect way to wrap up this musical gift.
Nice. I saw McCoy Tyner 2 years ago at Yoshis. The trio off Tyner, Stanley Clarke, and Billy Cobham was stellar. Tyner was as fluent as ever on piano. Clarke played a stand up bass the size of a large bathtub and was awesome. Cobham held the beat together perfectly, knowing exactly when to fire up and when to lay back.
This trio absolutely blew my mind. I sat there for about 50 minutes with my jaw hanging open, sucking up every bit of it. It was amazing and enlightening, and I am glad I went, BUT... that was it, just a 50 minute set and goodbye. It was the shortest concert I ever attended, and a very expensive ticket. I was home at 10:00 ready for another set.
I suppose that my favorite bands like Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Hot Tuna, Gov't Mule etc. have spoiled us over the years with long shows at reasonable prices. I am grateful that good ol' Phil & Friends played a mardi-gras show in San Francisco a few weeks after that McCoy Tyner gig. Phil & band played for 3.5 hours, sending me home exausted and happy. Thank you, PHIL!!!!!
Odd observation, but I read that Weir considered Tyner's piano style to be a major influence on his guitar style.
I saw the late show on the first night of this run and as usual Tyner, and for the most part his group were great.
Tyner is definitely beginning to show his age; he doesn't play as fast or take nearly as many solos as I used to see him do (at least on this night) but his feel, tone and style still make him the living legend he is, and a chance to see him play should NEVER be missed.
Christian McBride was as usual absolutely stellar. He plays with such power, precision and command that nothing he does ever sounds forced or over-played, even when he's really jamming.
Last year McCoy was playing with Eric Harland on drums, who I think is the best pure jazz drummer I've ever seen, but 'Tain Watts is great as well and is always a blast to watch & hear. He's a brilliant player who dances around his drums with an almost jovial spontaneity.
My only complaints would be that I didn't find Joe Lavano to be as amazing as the others in the group, and as a personal thing he uses an attached mike on his sax, which I NEVER like. It always seems to take away a dynamic in the sound of the horn, making it sound flat to me. I thought the times he backed off and the group played as a trio were the highlights of the show.
And of course as was stated above, jazz shows, especially club shows are ALWAYS too short. Us Deadheads ARE spoiled by how long most of our favorite bands play. I'm always just starting to get into the flow when it's "Thank you, good night."
Tyner's set was exactly one hour, which is about par for the nightclub course. I have learned to invest and buy tickets for both early & late shows when it's something I know will blow me away, but that's not always feasable, so you just have to be prepared for it.
Overall it was a great show and I look forward to seeing him again later this year when he plays a solo show in SF.