Despite his extensive recordings and his frequent trips to Washington, pianist McCoy Tyner continues to surprise jazz listeners with the sheer power of his execution.
At Blues Alley last night, Tyner began with "La Habana Sol," a colorful and often turbulent excursion into Afro-Cuban waters. Its melody is little more than a vamp, but violinist John Blake extended it brilliantly with a sharply angular improvisation. Tyner, along with drummer Ronnie Barrage, took the piece even further with a series of increasingly emphatic choruses -- full of rippling melodic clusters from the right hand and jagged bass figures from the left -- that ultimately brought the tune to a swelling crescendo.
"Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit," one of Tyner's older blues, was given an equally vigorous treatment. Bassist Avery Sharpe broke through the rhythmic squall with a lovely solo before Blake's tone took on an even sharper edge.
The violinist then offered one of his own compositions, a bittersweet ballad that allowed the tardy Joe Ford to redeem himself with a bright, yet probing, solo on flute. With all the members of his quartet finally in place, there was no stopping Tyner for the rest of the evening.
Tyner's mastery of modern jazz piano will be on display through Sunday at Blues Alley.