Ordinarily, the piano trio is not one of the more adventuresome constructions in jazz. But when the keyboard in question is manned by someone like McCoy Tyner, “ordinary” is the last word that comes to mind.
On the first night of his stint at New York’s Blue Note, the 62-year-old pianist proved willing to play both to and against his audience’s expectations, roaring like a lion one moment, purring like a kitten the next.
It took just a few bars of the lush opening number “Home” for Tyner to prove that he’s still capable of extracting new tones from the dense, modal style he all but invented back in the ’60s. Taking full advantage of the range afforded by a huge pair of hands, he wove together a fanciful — yet not ostentatious array of trills and octave tremolos, with drummer Aaron Scott standing sentinel, keeping order with just a few subtle brush strokes.
Tyner is more likely to wax eloquent than to tear into the keyboard these days, but he did allow himself a few moments of full-on fury — most notably during a stormy version of “Trane-Like.” That composition, dedicated to John Coltrane, with whom Tyner made some of the most esteemed recordings in jazz history, twisted, turned and arpeggiated wildly — appropriate actions for a tune designed to recall the late saxophonist.
After the rhythm section decamped, Tyner waded deeply into a languid solo version of “My Foolish Heart,” which took on a neo-baroque veneer thanks to the pianist’s ornate embellishments. He continued in that mode for an extended, hypnotic rendition of “Rio,” which set his rich chordings against the almost sitarlike six-string bass playing of Avery Sharpe.
Co-billed Mac Gollehon’s Smoking Section muscled through a strong selection of hard-bop originals that gave free rein to the leader’s molten, Lee Morgan-styled trumpet stylings. Gollehon, who has recorded with scads of pop artists, is a surprisingly daring soloist, employing a wide array of mutes and an even wider array of moods, ranging from pensive (“Hypnosis”) to aggressively quirky (“Parade”).