THE RELEASE of "Dimensions" finds pianist McCoy Tyner recording for a new label and trying to satisfy disparate audiences. A couple of tracks will clearly appeal to longtime fans who admire his percussive attack and rhythmic intensity, while others seem designed to attract listeners who enjoy their jazz bright and uncomplicated.
By far the most interesting performances are "Prelude to a Kiss," the Duke Ellington standard on which Tyner stretches out with a loving, venturesome touch, and "Uncle Bubba," saxophonist Gary Bartz' expansive tribute to Thelonious Monk. A touch of stride-style piano lends a buoyant quality to Tyner's rhapsodic solo arrangement of "Kiss," a warmly personalized tribute to the Duke. As for "Uncle Bubba," the free-wheeling yet collaborative spirit displayed by the quintet -- Tyner, Bartz, violinist John Blake, bassist John Lee and drummer Wilby Fletcher -- is unmatched elsewhere, and Bartz' alto saxophone is particularly invigorating.
Unfortunately, the balance of the album, except for a pleasant arrangement of the evergreen "Just in Time," is largely predictable and uninspired. Though festive and even brash at times, the music is often pro-forma jazz-fusion. The depth of expression one looks for in a Tyner performance is missing from even the best of these fusion-oriented arrangements, John Lee's richly textured "Understanding."
Guitarist John Abercrombie, who's in town performing with Tyner this weekend, is reunited with some old friends on his new album, "Night." Joining him are keyboardist Jan Hammer, drummer Jack DeJohnette and saxophonist Mike Brecker -- the same lineup that appeared on "Timeless," an album released 10 years ago and one of Abercrombie's more memorable sessions.
Fans of that recording shouldn't be disappointed with the writing and interplay on "Night," even if the music is, by and large, more eclectic. The title track has a wonderfully pensive theme, a mood thoughtfully nurtured by Brecker. DeJohnette comes to the fore on the bluesy romp "3 East," which is driven by his nimble prodding and features fluid solos by both Brecker and Abercrombie. Hammer's playing here and elsewhere is marked by sensitivity and discretion.
"Look Around" again leans toward impressionistic jazz, an Abercrombie specialty, but the album holds a few surprises as well. Chief among them is Hammer's tune, "Ethereggae," the one piece not written by Abercrombie. Light and loping, this ingratiating work ultimately serves all the players well.
McCOY TYNER -- "Dimensions" (Elektra Musician 9 60350-1-E).
JOHN ABERCROMBIE -- >"Night" (ECM 25009- 1); Tyner and Abercrombie appearing at Blues Alley Friday through Sunday.