The second annual Capital City Jazz Festival kicked off last night at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts with a special concert to benefit the school. The show featured two piano trios: the explosive, all-star McCoy Tyner Trio and Washington's more relaxing Shirley Horn Trio.
Paul Anthony and the legendary tap dancer Charles (Honi) Coles emceed the show, supplying enjoyable old stories and older jokes.
Tyner has long been one of America's best pianists, but last night he was in exceptional form. Using his unusually strong left hand to challenge the right, he hammered out thick, percussive chords until each song seemed ready to fly apart. The internal logic and sheer momentum of his improvisations brought from the torrential music not only order but a kind of lyricism too.
The trio format tightened the focus on Tyner, who was performing with two musicians who could push him to his limits. Avery Sharpe, who has played acoustic and electric bass for Tyner for years, sustained his melodic and rhythmic momentum, even at Tyner's exhausting pace.
Drummer Louis Hayes, who made his name with Cannonball Adderley and Horace Silver, provided the controlled fury that Elvin Jones once supplied to Tyner in the John Coltrane Quartet.
Shirley Horn tended to play it safe on her piano solos, but she broke up familiar tunes like "Eleanor Rigby" into short, sure melodic fragments and settled into a soothing jazz-soul groove. Her hushed vocals and pauses gave Antonio Carlos Jobim's "How Insensitive" an essential confessional quality. She was backed by drummer Steve Williams, who proved quite talented if sometimes undisciplined, and bassist Charles Ables.
The Capital City Jazz Festival moves to the Washington Convention Center for two shows tonight and three tomorrow.