Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner teams up with sax player Gary Bartz at the Birchmere
A standing ovation greeted pianist McCoy Tyner at the Birchmere on Friday night, a salute inspired by his extraordinary achievements in jazz. And the audience was back on its feet some 90 minutes later, cheering a quartet performance that consistently affirmed Tyner's commanding technique and might.
Of course, it didn't hurt that the 71-year-old NEA Jazz Master shared the stage with a longtime collaborator, veteran saxophonist Gary Bartz. Tyner always welcomes the opportunity to play with young musicians, but a special chemistry comes into play whenever he teams up with Bartz, whether the two are creating elegantly harmonized lines or alertly -- and sometimes wittily -- accenting each other's solos.
Playing alto sax -- and, briefly, a hooked soprano -- Bartz was in fine form throughout. He brought a soulful lyricism to the opening, no-frills arrangement of "Fly With the Wind" and vibrantly reminded listeners of his stylistic ties to Charlie Parker during "Blues on the Corner," the show's exuberant, Tyner-penned encore.
The pairing of bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt also proved crucial. Together and alone, they created the kind of modal-driven tension and swing-triggered release that Tyner thrives on. Thundering left-hand chords, chromatic sweeps and teeming crescendos often surfaced, with Tyner simultaneously serving as pianist, percussionist and orchestrator.
Usually, the Philadelphia native inserts a solo performance or two that illustrates his harmonic subtlety and interpretative gifts. That wasn't the case this time around, but during a rhythmically explosive version of John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice," the pianist celebrated a variety of jazz keyboard traditions with an Art Tatum-like burst of spirit and virtuosity.
-- Mike Joyce