by Michael Bowen
Now the Young Lions are playing with the Lion King. Terence Blanchard and Christian McBride may have been among the neotraditionalists who followed in Wynton Marsalis' straight-ahead wake, but they're with the real McCoy now.
McCoy Tyner - who is (along with Bill Evans) one of the two most influential jazz pianists of the late 20th century, and who was playing in Coltrane's quartet before Blanchard and McBride were even born - perpetuates jazz tradition and extends a hand to a younger generation in Illuminations, the latest of his more than 60 albums.
Also representing the old guard here is saxophonist Gary Bartz, who's been playing on and off with Tyner since the great Expansions band of the late '60s and who was a sideman for both Miles and Mingus. Illuminations (on Telarc) offers four Tyner originals, along with one each by Bartz, Blanchard and McBride; three standards round out the album.
On the title track, Blanchard gets pride of place with the first solo, followed by the warm tones of Bartz's alto and Tyner's trademark cascade of notes. But midway through, it's McBride on bass with the most inventive solo, and the lion cubs start prowling.
"New Orleans Stomp" opens with boogie-woogie from Tyner and drummer Lewis Nash, with Blanchard wailing French Quarter-style in the CD's most toe-tapping chorus.
Tyner stars on "Come Rain or Come Shine," taken as a trio with the pianist really parsing the melody, first breaking it down and then building it back up.
Bartz's composing contribution arrives with "Soulstice," an "up-tempo burner" that begins with quick, loopy notes from both horn men, segueing into Bartz's alto and Tyner's most intense solo of the set.
Blanchard's "Blessings," with its dual plaintive horns, recalls "Wandering Moon" (which he performed in 2001 at SFCC), though this time with runs from Tyner and Nash more prominent midway.
In the album's most moving track, McBride's "West Philly Tone Poem," the bassist, using the bow, joins Tyner in a somber duet.
In "The Chase," Tyner's quick-fingered allusions to "Take the A Train" run along the track at a very fast pace indeed. By the time Tyner quotes "I Got Rhythm," he's chasing around and after only himself. It's a display of sheer - and sheerly amazing - virtuosity.
Illuminations sheds light on how McCoy Tyner, even after all these years, is still roaring, still poundin' out the big sounds.
Publication date: 08/12/04