September 2003

McCoy Tyner - Land of Giants
Telarc SACD-63576
Released: 2003

by John Crossett

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

Over the course of the last few years, Telarc has spent an increasing amount of time and effort documenting many of the living legends of blues and jazz. McCoy Tyner’s Land of Giants continues that tradition and carries it one step further -- it’s a pure DSD recording released on Hybrid multichannel SACD. Calling Tyner a living legend isn’t a stretch -- precious few jazz pianists have welded the influence Tyner has. From his days as a member of the John Coltrane quartet on through today, Tyner has inspired more than one generation of pianists with his unique style.

On Land of Giants, Tyner (now 65) is teamed up with the superb vibist Bobby Hutcherson, bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Eric Harland. This thoughtfully assembled quartet is an ideal mixture of talent and ability. They seem to be able to play off each other in a manner that suggests many fruitful years of musical association. That’s not so surprising -- Tyner and Hutcherson have been playing together off and on since the 1960s, and Tyner thinks enough of Hutch to say he’s "not only a good friend, but one of the world’s greatest musicians." The two teamed up with Moffett and Harland for a rousing concert at Barbican Hall in London. A rave review in The Guardian led Telarc to ask Tyner if he would record with the same group, and this disc is the result.

This quartet is so musically powerful that it inspired not only some of Tyner’s best recent playing, but also some of his finest new compositions (seven of the ten tracks here are his). One of the more enjoyable tracks is the Latin-themed "Manalyaca," which has some of Hutcherson’s smoothest, fleetest and most melodic vibe work. Another track that you won’t want to see end is Tyner’s "Back Bay Blues," which starts off with Tyner and Hutcherson trading musical jabs at each other, while Moffett and Harland hold things down firmly with some wonderful rhythm work. But the cut that keeps repeating on my disc player is the old chestnut "If I Were a Bell" (made famous by Miles Davis). Here, Tyner and the group play with a swing and panache that breathes new life into a tune that’s been covered many times.

Don’t, however, spend too much time concentrating solely on Tyner and Hutcherson or you’ll be missing some fantastic bass and drum work. Eric Harland’s drums shine almost as brightly as the frontline instruments of his more illustrious bandmates. With a subtle prod here or a powerful, driving drum roll there, Harland propels the band along, giving just the proper impetus to the other musicians.

The musicianship on the disc is enhanced by the sonics provided by Telarc on this 100% DSD recording. The vibes shimmer, the piano is powerfully percussive, the bass is deep and woody, the drums have snap, and the cymbals ring. The two-channel mix places Tyner and Hutcherson up front, and the bass and drums behind. The soundstage is mostly speaker to speaker. The multichannel mix accentuates that placement somewhat, allowing the vibes to move further forward -- almost floating in air. I would have preferred a tad less vibe sound emanating from the rear speakers, as that would keep the vibes more in line with the balance of the group, but that’s a minor quibble. On the whole, whether listened to in stereo or multichannel SACD or Red Book CD, the sound is excellent.

Land of Giants is an easy recommendation for jazz lovers -- and not just because of McCoy Tyner. Between the wonderful music, the superb musicianship and the topnotch sonics (don’t forget, this is a Hybrid disc, so it’ll play anywhere you want it to), this is an album to cherish. I doubt it’ll stray any further from your digital playback system than it has from mine.