|McCoy Tyner 1973. Gisle Hannemyr.|
McCoy Tyner passed away on Friday, at the age of 81.
The record I put on right now, after I read the news, is "Sahara", an album released in 1972, with Sonny Fortune on sax, Calvin Hill on bass and Alphonse Mouzon on drums. The album is a delight from beginning to end. Tyner is possibly best known to most music lovers as the pianist of the famous John Coltrane Quartet, and rightly so.
If Coltrane was a giant, so was McCoy Tyner, technically and musically on the same high plane as the saxophonist. "Sahara" is truly Tyner's work, an amazing powerful album led by the pianist, who combines the joy of open musical space with clear structures and themes. Everything on the album is excellent, from the wild and intense "Ebony Queen" over the gurgling and splashing mountain river sounds of the solo piece "A Prayer for my Family", the meditative Asian "Valley of Life" with the pianist playing koto, followed by the energetic steamroller of "Rebirth", and ending with the long majestic and epic title track.
There are many albums by the John Coltrane Quartet that I could call masterpieces, but so is this one. It is varied, massive, free and controlled, highly energetic and fierce. McCoy Tyner shows everything he is and everything he has to give on this album. There are no constraints, just the absolute joy of making astonishing music with a band that is fully on board for this trip.
There are other albums too, and many by Tyner that I could have reviewed in this quick tribute to him, but I'm sure no other album will show the artist he was as well as "Sahara", and possibly one of his albums that comes closest to what free jazz fans might love.
Tyner was a truly great pianist, and an artist who helped jazz transition to a different level than ballroom venues. Like Coltrane, he saw the power of expansive playing, of leaving the beaten track for excursions into outer space.
A great legacy.
Our thoughts are with his family and friends.