McCoy Tyner: jazz-fusion pioneer

There are not many artists that can put you "in the zone" every time they play. McCoy Tyner is one of the few who can.

McCoy Tyner - high energy jazz stylist

There is always an intense focus and drive to his playing and his versions of jazz standards remain among my favourites. This is not background music!

McCoy Tyner came to the world's attention as the pianist in John Coltrane's famous quartet in the 1960's. Under the pressure of Coltrane's relentless exploration of modal playing and high energy extended improvisations Tyner evolved a way of playing chord voicings which gave Coltrane the room he wanted.

His playing is also strongly rhythmic and the quartal harmonies and pentatonic figurations he developed for both hands will sound familiar to any rock player. In fact he really laid a lot of the foundation for what was later picked up by other players and became the Jazz-Rock Fusion of the 1970's.

Quote: "I like to go on an adventure when I play. I like to have the freedom to do that not just for the sake of doing something out there or different. I like to experiment and take people along the way and bring them back. t’s like a voyage. I want them to understand what I’m doing as opposed to trying to baffle them. I want them to see that’s what music is about. It’s about enjoyment and going on a trip."

Here are my comments on a few of his albums:

McCoy Tyner - Sahara (1972)
Sahara (1972) - On track 3, ""Valley of Life", McCoy plays what sounds like a koto and manages to make it sound reasonably similar to his piano style. It gives another window into the way he is conceiving those rippling pentatonics and arpeggios. Although given the album title and the flute and percussion present I guess it is some kind of African instrument.

Song for My Lady (1972)0
Song for My Lady (1972) - Percussion - a bass ostinato - then the angular violin of John Blake Jr. sets up the trumpet and flute entries.

Song of the New World (1973)
Song of the New World (1973) - Luscious latin big band sound on this one. Sonny Fortune on flute solo, some strings and lots of percussion. A Big sound, notably on the luscious ballad "Some Day". Probably a good first album for the Tyner-neophyte

McCoy Tyner - Enlightenment (1973)
Enlightenment (1973 - Live in Paris with Alphonse Mouzon on drums. This hard driving quartet reminds me of the Coltrane Quartet around the time of "My Favourite Things" and "Impressions". This will be heavy going for some listeners - for example the last track is a 24 minute improvisation.

Atlantis (1974)
Atlantis (1974) - Opening with mysterious bell sounds and percussion, then McCoy's impressionistic pianisms, at 2:00 a surging riff is set up - and does not relent for another 15 minutes. Track 2 is a 6 minute solo version of Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood", a great chance to check out Tyner's approach to a sophisticated classic. A live album this and it is hot hot hot!


Trident (1975) features the startling jazz harpsichord stylings of McCoy Tyner.
Trident (1975) features the startling jazz harpsichord stylings of McCoy Tyner. Yes, that's right, harpsichord. You don't hear many of those in a jazz setting. Anyway Tyner delivers his usual high voltage performance (he does switch to piano). A must if you enjoy the work of this adventurer.

Fly with the Wind (1976) is MY PICK for people new to McCoy Tyner

Fly with the Wind (1976) - MY PICK for people new to McCoy Tyner
Fly with the Wind (1976) - The album opens with cello and piano, then violin and a whole string/wind section, very sublime. Harp sets up the wind, then Billy Cobham on drums and Ron Carter on bass take it away as Hubert Laws rips it up on the flute. Very arranged, very nice, very energetic, still classic Tyner, but the most accessible album I've heard from him.

Focal Point (1976) features the dulcet tones of flute and dulcimer.
Focal Point (1976) features the dulcet tones of flute and dulcimer. Dulcimer on the 3rd track and a lovely flute ballad on "Theme for Nana" - other than that it's Tyner's usual quality with plenty of brass and some percussion.

McCoy Tyner - SuperTrios (1977) features bassist Ron Carter with drummer Tony Williams, and bassist Eddie Gomez with drummer Jack DeJohnette.
SuperTrios (1977) - Super is the right word. Originally a double album, it features bassist Ron Carter with drummer Tony Williams, and bassist Eddie Gomez with drummer Jack DeJohnette. The version of Jobim's "Wave" which opens the album has ever remained in my mind as a role model, something to aspire to. Ditto with their version of "Stella by Starlight".

McCoy Tyner - Inner Voices (1977)... voicing the voicings...
Inner Voices (1977) - The first track reminded me of Horace Silver's "Silver and Voice" album, which is a compliment! And also of the "Swingle Singers" acapella versions of Mozart... rendered in a slightly different style of course!

The Greeting (1978)
The Greeting (1978) - The use of voices gives you a different insight into Tyner's harmonies. Beautiful stuff! With Ron Carter on bass you can't go wrong - and there's also a nylon string guitarist onboard. "Hand in Hand" opens the album with percussion and some kind of African (?) thumb piano and then segues into a gospel inspired vamp with flutes and vocals on top. This track would fit into the category today of "World Music", and so may be a good starting point for some listeners. Track 2 is Tyner's "Fly with the Wind" from the 1976 album of the same name. Live and furious. I had this one on vinyl and it nearly melted the stylus! Check out Sonship on drums, who also played with John McLaughlin in Mahavishnu v.3.

Together (1979)
Together (1979) - Check out the all star collaborators on this album:

  • Freddie Hubbard - trumpet
  • Hubert Laws - flute
  • Bennie Maupin - tenor, bass clarinet
  • Bobby Hutcherson - vibes
  • Stanley Clarke - bass
  • Jack DeJohnette - drums
  • ill Summers - percussion

McCoy Tyner 4x4 (1980)
4x4 (1980) - Hear McCoy Tyner with a dynamite rhythm section laying into it with 4 different soloists - Freddie Hubbard - John Abercrombie on a kind of soprano guitar - altoist Arthur Blythe and vibraphone player Bobbie Hutcherson. The album title derives from the practice, last century, of releasing music on large black plastic disks. 4 quartets on 4 sides, get it?

13th House (1981)
13th House (1981) - An all-star big band joins McCoy for this one. Lush arangements and the expected great solos.

Uptown Downtown (1989) Big Band sounds from McCoy Tyner
Uptown Downtown (1989) - McCoy's big band sounds positively funky as this live recording kicks off. This is probably the richest setting I've heard him play in. Still plenty of good piano though. "Lotus Flower" starts with a didgeridoo sound (pretty unusual in jazz). "Blues for Basie" is a pretty straight ahead jazz blues with almost traditional piano!

Just Feelin' (1991)
Just Feelin (1991) One of the few Tyer albums with electric bass which is played very well by Avery Sharpe. Quite an accessible album, which closes with "Black Orpheus" (Manha de Carnaval).

McCoy Tyner - Counterpoints - 2003
Counterpoints (2003) - Recorded live in Tokyo in 1978! I guess they mislaid the tapes for a couple of decades. It opens with "The Greeting" from the 1978 album, and features the remarkable Tony Williams on drums.