McCoy Tyner, Jazz Cafe, London

Jazz Cafe, London

The renaissance of McCoy Tyner as a live performer has been one of the jazz marvels of the past year. Not that the regal 64-year-old pianist has ever exactly gone off the boil, but his elder-statesman status and the adulation he receives have at times allowed him to settle down to a simmer. But last July at the Barbican, Tyner delivered one of the most exciting live jazz shows of the UK year, and most of the band that helped him do that also played at the Jazz Cafe.

The Barbican gig featured the graceful vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, which obliged Tyner and his remarkable partners Charnett Moffett (bass) and Eric Harland (drums) to throttle back at times and let the melodious trickle of the vibes be heard. But as a trio they could ditch restraint, and over a single set with three encores, Tyner suggested once again that he was rediscovering much of the collective intensity he had shared with Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison in the John Coltrane quartet.

Tyner's favourite materials are highly rhythmic, riff-like melodies (frequently played in chords), peppered with slam-stops, expectant pauses and suddenly renewed sprints. He has a fondness for mixing Latin and straightahead jazz grooving in the same piece, as well as sumptuous ballad-playing. The first two elements were in volcanic supply here, but the ballad playing shared the same heedless ferocity - not in that irritating jazz-virtuoso's manner of playing the melody slowly and then inappropriately going uptempo for the improvisation, but in the meteor-showers of notes Tyner packed into narratives that were still proceeding at a meditative pace.

Charnett Moffett's pulsating bass-walk and fusion of free-jazz and racing lyricism galvanised all the music, and his partnership with the equally formidable Harland drove Tyner to cliffhanging extremities. The pianist unleashed solos of molten runs and sharp turns resolving in hammering chords and vehement trills on the opening uptempo pieces, and a dazzling Harland solo halfway through found him sustaining bumpy tom-tom patterns against jarring arhythmic flurries still anchored by the heartbeat of his bass drum.

Tyner opened a slow piece with streams of silvery treble sounds over a softly walking left hand, crashed to a halt, then veered off into benign snatches of stride piano. Then on a succession of encores, the band seemed to become more of one mind and body than ever, with Tyner impassively planting chords for Harland's percussive eruptions to spring off, and Moffett at times as direct and dramatic with the acoustic instrument as a rock band's electric bassist. It was the kind of jazz band you could happily hear night after night.


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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