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McCoy Tyner Guitars Album Review

Updated on May 26, 2009
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Guitars Background

It’s an interesting concept, to be sure.

Take one legendary pianist, one who was at ground zero on some of the most important jazz recordings ever.

Add an equally awe-inspiring rhythm section, one that served as the driving force for some of the biggest names in jazz.

Mix in five cutting-edge guitar players, ones that have spent their entire careers redefining the things that can be done on six strings.

The end result is McCoy Tyner’s latest offering, titled simply enough, Guitars.

McCoy plays Giant Steps on Piano "Wow"



A simple mention of Tyner’s name induces goose-bumps to most jazz aficionados, and rightfully so.

After all, Tyner was a valued member of the John Coltrane Quartet and handled piano duties on such must-have Coltrane albums like A Love Supreme, Crescent and Ascension.

He also played sideman to Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Grant Green, to name just a few, before embarking on his own as a bandleader.

Impressive for sure.

Then there’s the amazing rhythm section found on Guitars.

Bassist Ron Carter, one of the most recorded jazzmen of all time, held down the low end for Wes Montgomery, Coleman Hawkins, Billy Cobham and Miles Davis.

Like Carter, drummer Jack DeJohnette also saw time at the side of Mile Davis, along with Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker.

That’s some pretty heavy company, to say the least.

The string-slingers invited to the party were no slouches either – Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, Derek Trucks, John Scofield and Bella Fleck. Smooth jazz players, they are most definitely not.

But as great ideas sometimes do, this pairing of guitarists with Tyner and company falls short of meeting its desired goals.

Maybe a feeling of intimidation got in the way, or maybe the guitar players were just too conscious of stepping on Tyner’s legendary toes, but whatever the case, the fire usually associated with these players is, for the most part, absent on Guitars.

And that’s really a shame for Tyner’s first outing with guitarists in his long and impressive career.

The two tracks that John Scofield plays on, Coltrane’s “Mr. PC,” and Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner,” are the most inspired on the disc.

Scofield, who did time in Miles Davis’ band before becoming a band leader of his own, jumps on top of “Mr. PC” from the start and pushes it along at a beautifully frenetic pace, while Tyner, Carter and DeJohnette play catch-up. And when he does pull even, Carter lets fly with a warm sounding bass solo.

Scofield follows that by really biting into the solo on “Blues on the Corner,” ripping it into elastic bits, in his own unique way.

Any chance to hear the amazing slide guitar work of Derek Trucks is a welcome one, but it would have been nice had he seized the moment and cut loose a bit, instead of playing it close to the vest on Guitars.

Trucks, who leads his own group and also plays in the Allman Brothers Band, has performed “Greensleeves” countless times on his own, so maybe he would have been better served to have chosen another track besides that one to play on. Maybe something “less standard” might have spurred a more off-the-cuff effort from the young guitar wizard.

Bella Fleck, of course, is mostly known for his banjo work, even though at times it doesn’t sound like he’s playing the banjo, and that is his instrument of choice on this disc, as well.

And while he has certainly mastered a jazzy command of the instrument over the years, it doesn’t fit particularly well with Tyner’s piano, especially on a version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic “My Favorite Things,” a tune the late Coltrane practically made his own. Just listening to that tune, it’s almost impossible to hear it without hearing Coltrane’s soaring sax on it.

Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell, a pair of experimental guitar players of the highest order, hold their own with the still nimble-fingered Tyner.

Ribot’s “Improvisation 2” is a miss-step, sounding more like a minute and a half of tuning up, but he regroups and adds some fire to the heavy-sounding Tyner composition “Passion Dance.”

Guitars also comes with a DVD containing over three hours worth of material from the sessions and gives the viewer the opportunity to watch the proceedings from multiple angles.

And that’s where the real gold on Guitars lies – in the DVD.

It not only offers a glimpse into just how a sampling of the songs were laid down, but it also gives viewers the rare chance to see Tyner, Carter and DeJohnette, three larger-than-life jazz legends, in the flesh.

And that alone is worth the price of admission.


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    • Jon Green profile image

      Jon Green 8 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      Hi. I bought this album, and agree with all your comments. McCoy Tyner is one of the greats, and I saw him live recently- but the album is lacklustre, and I'm not playing it. Generally, these jazz all-star summits just don't work.

      Cheers, Jon Green