McCoy Tyner/ John Surman Sage, Gateshead

Sage, Gateshead

McCoy Tyner was not much older than 21 when he found a way of playing piano in the harmonic outlands discovered by his fearless boss, John Coltrane. John Surman was the same age when he caught the jazz world's ear by adapting Coltrane's hurtling momentum to the elephantine baritone saxophone.

Several decades later, both men are now elder statesmen of the international jazz scene; fittingly, they shared the opening night of the Sage Gateshead's first jazz festival on Friday. It may have been the remarkable sonic characteristics of the Sage's main hall, or Tyner's reunion with an old partner (former Weather Report drummer Eric Gravatt), or Surman's return to playing after a year's sabbatical, but they both played with an irresistible energy, and won a standing ovation for their efforts.

Surman can be an oblique and private-sounding chamber-jazz performer, but here, even the more reflective moments of his unaccompanied reeds and synths performance had a jubilant intensity, as if he was delighted to be back in the saddle. He began in familiar fashion, curving delicate soprano-sax figures over birdsong sounds and slow ambient chords from the electronics. Four Bridges, composed for this occasion, explored the acoustics of the room with softly padding notes occasionally veering into atonality. On the baritone, Surman resoundingly delivered his own angle on the kind of rootsy solo-sax stomp that Michael Brecker sometimes plays: a roaring blues of walking basslines, whirring subterranean notes and fierce high-register squalls.

McCoy Tyner followed with his latest trio, featuring Gravatt and bass virtuoso Charnett Moffett. From the off, Tyner hit chords as if he was determined to be heard on the other side of the river, and he kept mainly to uptempo numbers, returning to his bejewelled ballad style on only a few numbers -notably an account of I'll Take Romance that featured tender lyricism along with its pounding stride-rhythms. Gravatt, a direct and emphatic performer, complemented Tyner with crisp, hard-struck punctuation rather than a competitive embroidery. And the guitar-like strumming and pin-sharp penetration of Moffett on bass added dynamism to the encores. This is one of Tyner's best balanced and most collectively creative trios, embracing a jazz giant still at the top of his game.


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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