The McCoy Tyner Trio kicked off the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center's annual fall jazz series Friday night with a bravura show that reaffirmed Tyner's status as one of the best pianists in the world today. Tyner is a massive but soft-spoken man, and he attacked the Steinway piano with a percussive force mixed with fluid elegance.
Playing full chords and arpeggios in both hands most of the time, he stacked notes at odd intervals until the harmonies reached a critical density. He hammered out staccato phrases until he reached a crescendo of thick harmonies; then he released the tension with a quicksilver run of right-hand melody notes. Acoustic bassist Avery Sharpe, who has played with the pianist for 10 years now, was able to reinforce the band leader's every move. Even with Newman Baker subbing for the trio's regular drummer, Aaron Scott, the music rose in cresting waves, crashed and receded to rise again.
On "Monk's Dream," Tyner replaced Thelonious Monk's pause-punctuated phrasing with his own rumbling arpeggios; Sharpe's bluesy, string-slapping solo set the stage for one of Tyner's high-energy climaxes. Tyner paid tribute to his mentor John Coltrane with "Lazy Bird," a quite misleadingly titled 'Trane chase. The evening's biggest surprise was a version of the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere," which Tyner treated like the same kind of standard springboard as Kern's "Yesterdays" or Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me." The Lennon-McCartney tune proved just as resilient.