MCCOY TYNER - SAMA LAYUCA
It's a sobering thought that the end of the 1960s saw McCoy Tyner driving a New York cab to pay his rent when only a few years before he'd been a member of one of the greatest jazz groups on the planet, namely John Coltrane's 'classic' quartet.
By 1971 however, Tyner was back on track with a deal with Milestone and a subsequent string of albums which saw him team up with post Coltrane horn players like Sonny Fortune and Azar Lawrence, with whom he recorded the classic Enlightenment. Sama Layuca dates from 1974, and sees Tyner in an octet format, teaming up with Lawrence, old duet partner vibist Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Bartz, John Stubblefield and a monster rhythm section of Buster Williams, Billy Hart and percussionists Mtume and Guilherme Franco.
The results are exhilarating; Tyner's compositions are unsurprisingly modal excursions, topped off with faintly exotic horn themes and driven by insistent, afro-latin rhythms. Lawrence (on tenor and soprano) and altoist Bartz are clearly at home; Lawrence's fruity, robust tenor and airy soprano blends Coltrane's fiery yearning with a floating attack worthy of Wayne Shorter, while Bartz is typically wondrous, full of surprise and fire (check his questing solo on the closing "Paradox"). Both players provide an abject lesson in getting the most out of soloing over one or two chords.
Hutcherson was possibly the only vibist around who could survive in the heat generated by such a lineup. His crystalline voicings are showcased on the two lower key numbers; the impressionistic "Above the Rainbow" (a duet with the leader), and the stately "Desert Cry". Switching to marimba on the hyperspeed latin groove of "La Cubana", Hutcherson more than holds his own, firing off rhythmically twisty, harmonically probing lines before playing call and response with Franco's cowbells.
Tyner's playing walks his usual line between tough and tender, from the swelling, limpid arpeggios of "Above the Rainbow" to the percussive splash and dark intervals of his solo on "La Cubana". The expanded lineup holds the pianists's tendency to overcook his solos in check; despite the length of some of the pieces ("Paradox" clocks in at over 16 minutes) this isn't the testosterone fuelled sprawling solofest you might expect. Solos are kept short and sweet, and the frequent shifts in texture and instrumental combinations keep things interesting.
Most of all it's Tyner's rhythmic sense and his powerhouse left hand that provide the excitement when locking with the irresistible grooves that Williams, Hart, Mtume and Franco whip up. I bet there were a few sore fingers after this session, but the music here won't leave your ears sore. Recommended.