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McCoy Tyner's latest, Illuminations, shows that at 65, the iconic pianist is still a force to be reckoned with, still an artist looking for new challenges—even if it the terrain he covers here is more traditional than some of his past explorations.
Tyner leads a truly all-star quintet (trumpeter Terence Blanchard, saxophonist Gary Bartz, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash) through a set that includes four Tyner originals, three standards and tunes by three of his bandmates. Highlights include Tyner's energetic, Latin-flavored "Angelina," Blanchard's lively "Blessings" and McBride's "West Philly Tone Poem," a quietly evocative duet feature for piano and bass. A minor revelation for longtime Tyner fans is his "New Orleans Stomp," a boisterous, down-home Big Easy shuffle that's far closer in spirit to Armstrong than Coltrane.
With absolutely nothing left to prove, Tyner is exceedingly generous to his stellar sidemen, giving all of them, including the rhythm section, plenty of room to solo. Bartz, a frequent Tyner collaborator since the late '60s, switches from alto to soprano sax on a touching rendition of "If I Should Lose You." And Blanchard, as good a trumpeter as there is in jazz at the moment, steps to the fore on "Alone Together," blowing moodily over McBride's bass while the rest of the band bows out. While Tyner stays in the background more than usual, he shows (as if there were any doubters) that he's still the real McCoy on "The Chase," a fast, furious romp with McBride and Nash.
McCoy Tyner has released dozens of brilliant albums as a leader over the past five decades. Illuminations is another fine addition to the Tyner canon.