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John H. Armwood Jazz History Lecture Nashville's Cheekwood Arts Center 1989

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jazz: World Saxophone Quartet/McCoy Tyner - First night reviews - Times Online

Jazz: World Saxophone Quartet/McCoy Tyner - First night reviews - Times OnlineJazz: World Saxophone Quartet/McCoy Tyner
Alyn Shipton at Barbican

Since his death in 1970 Jimi Hendrix has been fair game for jazz musicians to turn his music into the basis for something new. The legendary arranger Gil Evans was one high-profile example, and our own Brit-jazz group Acoustic Ladyland is another.

Yet in comparison with them, the high-energy, utterly committed tribute from the World Saxophone Quartet was the real deal. Hendrix pushed outrageous stagecraft farther than any other musician of his generation, and in the wild alto saxophone solos of Oliver Lake and Bruce Williams, constantly alternating between freedom and control, the Hendrix spirit was alive and kicking.

Opening with the four saxophones of Lake, Williams, Hamiet Bluiett and David Murray, the band showed how to create powerful excitement without a rhythm section. The music ebbed and flowed, Bluiett’s chunky baritone holding everything steady as the four horns mixed free solos and arranged passages of harmonic ingenuity with brilliant control.

Then they were joined by Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass and Lee Pearson on drums, plus the trombonist Craig Harris. On a searching exploration of Wind Cries Mary, Harris held in check his usual penchant for overlong solos, turning in some fine playing, and a beautiful recitation of the lyric, while Murray’s tenor gusted breathily through the ensemble. On Machine Gun, bass and drums came into their own, with Pearson’s show-stopping routine including playing with his arms crossed behind his back, balancing his sticks on his head, and thrumming out rhythms on the stage. Hendrix would have loved it.

It was a shame that this was the warm-up to a perfunctory set by a grand master in decline. McCoy Tyner is one of the great jazz pianists, with a technique to match Oscar Peterson’s and an inventiveness that made him John Coltrane’s quartet partner for several years. Here, in a bombastic set with the thudding drums of Eric Gravatt drowning out his occasional moments of inspiration, McCoy was a shadow of his former self, and an anticlimax after the WSQ’s coruscating showmanship.

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