The Real McCoy
02. Contemplation 9:10
03. Four By Five 6:35
04. Search For Peace 6:25
05. Blues On The Corner 6:05
Bass – Ron Carter
Drums – Elvin Jones
Piano – McCoy Tyner
Tenor Saxophone – Joe Henderson
Recorded on April 21, 1967.
This 1967 quartet was McCoy Tyner's first for Blue Note as a leader, although he had frequently recorded as a sideman for the label--with Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, and Grant Green, among others. One of the last recordings produced by Blue Note founder Alfred Lion, and Tyner's first as a leader since leaving the legendary John Coltrane Quartet two years before, the session has a special quality. There's something of the Blue Note sound to the group's concentrated intensity, perhaps Lion's contribution as well as engineer Rudy Van Gelder's, while Tyner, a more conservative musician than Coltrane, was integrating the modal and expressionist forms of the Coltrane quartet into more tightly defined compositional patterns. In tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, Tyner found a true peer, another musician with a strong identity whose style represented a similar amalgam of conventional and innovative elements. Together with drummer Elvin Jones, and bassist Ron Carter, they both reassert the hard-bop mainstream with "Four by Five" and the deep blues of "Blues on the Corner" and extend it with the heightened solemnity of "Search for Peace" and the brilliant rhythmic interplay of "Passion Dance."
When someone uses the word “idyllic” to describe a scene, we think of Monet’s Water Lillies or another classic of impressionism – a work in summery shades that pretty much demands a daydream. But there are different kinds of idylls – as “Search For Peace,” one of five McCoy Tyner originals here, suggests. The tempo is slow, stately, deliberate. The harmony, outlined first by piano trills and broken chords, has purpose behind it: The title implies an ongoing and perhaps unattainable quest, not some easily abandoned momentary pursuit. The theme, when it arrives, enhances this sense – it’s at once solemn like a hymn, and contemplative, and also floatingly free. It puts forth an idealistic vision of what “peace” might feel like, and in the same breath holds the full awareness of possible (likely) futility. Crucially, it’s not the jingoistic sloganeering of a peace rally; it’s a meditation on the potentiality of peace, and what it means to pursue it.
Of course “peace” as a concept meant something different on April 22, 1967 than it does today. When Tyner and his group gathered at Rudy Van Gelder’s place to record this landmark, war was raging in Vietnam and the social upheavals over civil rights, race and the fast-emerging hippie culture were simmering throughout America. The jazz community responded to this heady time in all kinds of ways – song titles became commentary, and inevitably the “heat” of the cultural moment informed recordings and performances. Tyner, who departed from the Coltrane group in 1965, evidently felt that there was a need for music that looked inward and invited reflection. In Nat Hentoff’s original liner notes, the pianist explains that when he wrote the piece, he perceived it as outlining a spiritual mission, “the giving over of the self to the universe.”
The Real McCoy is Tyner’s Blue Note debut, and though it starts in a frenzied mood with “Passion Dance,” much of it finds the pianist and composer creating zones of reflection, offering musical refuge from the tumult of the times. Tyner has said that he left the Coltrane group because of its increasingly chaotic dissonance; his compositions here utilize the open block-chord harmonies Coltrane loved, channeled into tightly focused rhapsodies. There is a vibe of serenity in the writing, not just in the ascending theme of “Search for Peace,” but also the gentle, affirmative modal journey entitled “Contemplation” – this album contains five tunes, and two of them are riveting downtempo ballads. The other three are equally poised and thoughtful, and each is defined by its own internal logic. “Passion Dance” is an essay in rhythmic upheaval: Tyner’s spikes and Elvin Jones’ jabs establish an obstacle course, and the challenge for tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson is to navigate the shifting patterns while creating a cogent ad-libbed testimony. (Of the many Blue Note sessions featuring strong work by Henderson, this might be his shining hour, in part because of his patient impossible-to-notate inventions on “Passion Dance” and “Contemplation.”) “Four By Five” offers polyrhythmic daring in a different hue, while the entrancingly settled “Blues on the Corner,” the session’s lone blues, suggests that even this formidable group understood the importance of kicking back once in a while.
The peak statement of Tyner’s solo career, The Real McCoy is also one of a handful of recordings that define hard bop. Lots of records from this genre have interesting tunes and blazing solo performances, but few attain such an interconnected synergy. Listening to these these rich, beautifully realized atmospheres, and how they inspire deep, passionate, strikingly collective improvisations, you realize we are far removed from the anxieties – and the idealistic quests for peace – that governed 1967. That’s a mixed blessing.
After several years of working in John Coltrane's classic early 60's quartet and making himself out to be the premier modal jazz pianist of the 1960's, McCoy Tyner tried his hand as a bandleader. Working with fellow former Coltrane quartet member Elvin Jones on drums, Miles Davis Quintet member and frequent collaborator with Herbie Hancock on Blue Note, Ron Carter on bass, and Blue Note Records stalwart Joe Henderson on Saxophone. Together, they whip up a storm of magnificent post bop as great as anything Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter had recently done on Blue Note in the preceding years and what Miles Davis was doing at the time with his second quintet (which of course included Carter). Tyner proves himself to not only be the premier modal jazz pianist of the 60's, but an equal to Blue Note contemporary Herbie Hancock in being one of the premier post-bop pianists of the 60's. On such classics as Passion Dance (which makes me think of couples dancing in the moonlight underneath a Parisian sky) and Four by Five, the quartet cooks with joyous energy and hypnotizes on the serene ballads Contemplation and Search for Peace (which makes me think of people sitting on an urban rooftop in Manhattan on a clear moonlit night, starring at and contemplating the moon while discussing life). On all these tracks, everyone shines. Tyner's piano work, as playful and lyrical as Hancock's dances around, Elvin Jones either pounds away with ferocious energy as on Passion Dance or gently taps on his drums and cymbals as on Search for Peace, and Henderson and Carter gently sizzle. All the more proof that 1967 was a big, crucial year for post-bop jazz.
Two and a half years after his last recording as a leader for Impulse, pianist McCoy Tyner emerged to start a period on Blue Note that would result in seven albums. Having left John Coltrane's Quartet in late 1965, Tyner was entering a period of struggle, although artistically his playing grew quite a bit in the late '60s. For this release, the pianist is teamed with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Elvin Jones for five of his originals. Highlights of the easily recommended album include "Passion Dance," "Four by Five," and "Blues on the Corner."