December 2000

McCoy Tyner - Jazz Roots
Telarc CD-83507
Released: 2000

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]Due to both his talent and longevity, McCoy Tyner has moved firmly into "living jazz icon" status, and Jazz Roots, Tyner’s third album for Telarc, will do absolutely nothing to undermine his position in that august pantheon. Here, Tyner digs deeply into the jazz bedrock and pays homage to those whose pianistic styles have either inspired him or helped mold his career.

It’s interesting to hear how easily Tyner slips into the styles of such diverse musicians as Earl "Fatha" Hines, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington (OK, so maybe doing Duke isn’t such a stretch), Erroll Garner, and Keith Jarrett, among others. And while no one will ever mistake Tyner for any of the above-mentioned pianists, he isn’t shamed by the comparison. Take, for instance, his rendition of Monk’s "Pannonica." It takes guts to tackle Monk’s work because it's so hard to get right. Tyner has clearly taken the time to learn the intricacies of Monk’s style; yet, he has the confidence to express himself at the same time, without resorting to mere imitation. And that’s true for all the music on Jazz Roots. Tyner has been around long enough, has played with most of the first-rank musicians, and been intelligent enough to absorb what he’s learned, so he can immerse himself in a full range of styles and still play like no one except himself.

Tyner opens Jazz Roots with "A Night In Tunisia," as a dedication to Bud Powell, and darned if he doesn’t sound like Bud. I said -- he sounds like Bud, not that he is Bud reincarnate. Tyner, who is anything but sparse in his piano style (a trait he developed while trying to make himself heard as a part of the John Coltrane quartet), is a much busier pianist than players such as Powell, Monk or Evans. Yet, he sketches an accurate portrayal of Bud Powell -- there is no question about whom the tune honors.

Similarly, Tyner injects "My Foolish Heart" with passion and energy, where Bill Evans was all about color and space; yet we never doubt that it is a memorial to Evans.

The sound on Jazz Roots is up to the usual Telarc standards. This is another of their DSD recordings, and that's reflected in the sound quality. The piano offers full, percussive sound, which is spread between the speakers. You can almost see the hammers striking the strings and the sound waves bouncing off its lid. I’m extremely impressed; this is very good piano sound.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like Jazz Roots. I find solo piano tough to listen to, unless the pianist has something unique to offer. Tyner shows a side of himself here that I wasn’t aware he had. And, in so doing, he captured my attention and increased my admiration for him. I think Jazz Roots is a winner, and, if you give it a try, maybe you will too.