CD: McCoy Tyner, Illuminations


It's hard for those jazz veterans who tower above the pack to know what to do on record. Sonny Rollins hardly puts out any discs, and what he does in a studio pales beside his live shows. Lee Konitz gets involved in a variety of recording projects, but his vaporous sound in a room is what counts.

McCoy Tyner is more effective than most on disc, but the ingredients of his music tend to sound like more of a formula on a record than they ever do onstage. His performance at the Barbican in 2002 was one of the most incandescent jazz burn-ups heard in London in many a year, and the band that played that show made his previous album: a quartet featuring the old fox Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, and a couple of hungry hounds in the ferocious bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Eric Harland.

The quintet on Illuminations is both more colourfully boppish and more soulfully bluesy: Terence Blanchard is on trumpet, Gary Bartz on sax, Christian McBride on bass and Lewis Nash on drums.

This lot lack the previous group's raw power and scary urgency, and nor do they have the gravitas of Tyner's 1970s and 80s bands - but they play breezier music, with an attractively uncomplicated punch. Bartz sounds poignantly emotional but never loses his groove, and Tyner himself is as majestically authoritative as ever.

Sometimes the band sounds like an Art Blakey group with a trumpeter of cool poise and insatiable confidence, gliding over the rest like Wynton Marsalis - as occurs on the bright, riffy swinger of the title track, where the dynamic contrasts between group intensity and tight, minimal drums, swinging under shapely breaks from Blanchard and Tyner, make you whoop.

A Wynton-like affection for reworking pre-bop jazz forms surfaces on a New Orleans-style blues stomp, with Blanchard delivering sly, corner-of-the-mouth insinuations and high, squealing bleats. The enthralling hard-bop horn chase on Soulstice draws a thoughtful, bittersweet alto solo from Bartz - though the saxophonist sounds rather as though he doesn't want to spend too much time in the spotlight.

The slow, prayer-like Blessings temporarily loses its hypnotic quality when Blanchard starts popping corks, but Bartz, in pure, high soprano mode, makes a touching job of the theme to If I Should Lose You.

It's Tyner, however, who furnishes some of the most gracefully expressive moments, such as his gradual exposition on Come Rain or Come Shine, or his liquid chords against McBride's bowed sounds on West Philly Tone Poem.

Illuminations is well up to Tyner-band standards, though maybe not leaping out of the crowd as forcefully as its predecessor did.


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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