Saturday Night Tunes: The Real McCoy

I didn’t realize it has been two weeks since I did one of these. Sorry about that. I blame real life for interfering.

Pianist McCoy Tyner is not unlike Joe Henderson (who coincidentally appears on tonight’s album) in that he’s a figure who made as much, if not more, of a name for himself as a sideman as he did leading his own bands, though in Tyner’s case this comes specifically from one extended gig: he was John Coltrane’s pianist from 1960 to 1965. He left as Coltrane’s playing became more avant garde, more percussive, and more atonal, which wasn’t his style and wasn’t what he wanted to play. That’s not to say that Tyner’s playing remained static; he went on to experiment in other ways, like incorporating unusual instruments (you’ll have to search pretty far to find somebody else playing jazz harpsichord, for example) and classical settings (he’s considered an important figure in the jazz-classical hybrid “third stream” style). Above all, he is as influential a pianist in modern jazz as anybody else you can name, whether it be Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, or somebody else entirely.

The Real McCoy was recorded in 1967, after Tyner had left Coltrane. It is a wonderful jazz album, and features Ron Carter on bass and Elvin Jones on drums in addition to Tyner and Henderson. Tyner composed all of the tunes.

First up is “Passion Dance,” a modal tune that Tyner says (in the liner notes) reminded him of “a kind of American Indian dance.” He and Henderson are obviously having a blast tearing into this one, and Jones takes a great drum solo near the end:

“Contemplation” is meant to evoke “a man reflecting on the meaning of life” (again from the liner notes). Really epic solos here from Henderson, Tyner, and Carter:

“Four by Five” has the coolest melody on the album, switching between 4/4 and 5/4 time before moving just into 4/4 for the swinging solo section. Henderson again tears it up:

“Search for Peace” is, as the title hints, the album’s ballad. Tyner really shines on this one, both in his improv and in the composition of the tune:

I think “Blues on the Corner,” with its funky, shuffling street music feel, is my favorite tune on the album. Everybody loves a great blues tune, and this one delivers both for the players and the listener:

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