"Counterpoints: Live in Tokyo"


Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner so often confronts us with dense thickets of notes and tense harmonic conflicts that we often think of him as a stern, determined warrior. But Tyner reveals a very different personality on his new album, "Illuminations," which is marked by jaunty, swinging rhythms and a playful sense of melody. Tyner wrote four new pieces for the session, and they all have a finger-snapping bounce and swagger. One of Tyner's originals, "New Orleans Stomp," borrows not only its title and second-line rhythm from Louis Armstrong but also its joyful exuberance.

Tyner has assembled an all-star quintet for this upbeat, up-tempo project. Drummer Lewis Nash and bassist Christian McBride had worked with Tyner on his similarly lighthearted 1997 tribute to Burt Bacharach, while saxophonist Gary Bartz played on eight of Tyner's albums between 1967 and 1983. Trumpeter Terence Blanchard is new to the Tyner camp, but like McBride, he adds a slow, hymnlike composition to provide some relief from the giddy, onrushing momentum of tunes such as Tyner's aptly titled "The Chase" or his hard-swinging arrangement of "Come Rain or Come Shine."

Tyner had had many good nights on stage, but one of his best was July 28, 1978, at the Denen Coliseum in Tokyo. He played a set by himself and then a second with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, fresh from their 1977 studio session for the "Supertrios" album. Three solo performances and two trio numbers from that night were released on the 1979 album "Passion Dance," and now two more solo pieces, two more trio tunes and a Tyner-Carter duet from the same evening have been released for the first time in the United States as "Counterpoints: Live in Tokyo." One composition, "Iki Masho (Let's Go)," is unavailable anywhere else.

Tyner was at the peak of his powers in the late '70s, tying his dense, percussive chords into harmonic knots that only he could unravel. Carter and Williams had the physical aggression and harmonic imagination to be the perfect partners, and we are lucky to have more evidence of their give-and-take.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing through Sunday at Blues Alley. * To hear a free Sound Bite from McCoy Tyner's "Illuminations," call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8127; to hear "Counterpoints," press 8128. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)