Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on December 1, 1967
Originally issued as BST 84275
On this excellent set (reissued on CD by Blue Note), McCoy Tyner had the opportunity for the first time to head a larger group. His nonet is an all-star aggregation comprised of trumpeter Lee Morgan, trombonist Julian Priester, altoist James Spaulding, Bennie Maupin on tenor, the French horn of Bob Northern, Howard Johnson on tuba, bassist Herbie Lewis, and drummer Joe Chambers in addition to the pianist/leader. Tyner debuted six of his originals, and although none became standards (perhaps the best known are "The High Priest" and "All My Yesterdays"), the music is quite colorful and advanced for the period. Well worth investigating.
The 2004 Rudy Van Gelder Edition does not contain any bonus material. It does, however, feature wonderfully remastered sound in 24-bit resolution transferred from the original two-track analog tapes. It replaces the earlier CD issue.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
No performer in any of the arts wants to move backward; few are content to stand still; most are eager to move ahead. In the case of McCoy Tyner, a musician who from the start of his career has been possessed with a keen insight into the possibilities of creative and technical advancement, it comes as no surprise to find that with this album he has taken a major step forward.
As the above credits make clear, this is McCoy's initial LP as leader of an orchestral group. The challenge of composing and scoring all the tunes for a nine-piece band was a demanding one.
"This marks my first endeavor in doing this much writing," he says. "I've been doing some reading about orchestration, and I felt that an album of this kind would represent an extension of my feeling in music beyond what I've accomplished with smaller combinations.
"The main task at the outset was to pick out the right horns, an instrumentation that would combine to produce the particular sounds I had in mind. I believe the personnel I selected gave me plenty to work with, and a good range all the way from flute down to tuba."
Tyner's decision to branch out into this area came about partly as a consequence of the opportunities to write during several months last year spent with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. "That job gave me a chance to delve into the writing thing a little more, in contrast with the work I'd been doing in smaller groups."
There have been many and varied experiences for McCoy since he left John Coltrane's quartet in December of 1965. His associations have ranged from Tony Scott, with whom he played at the Dome immediately after leaving Trane, to Sonny Rollins. ("That was a very intriguing experience - the first time I'd played with him since his Max Roach days.") Frequently he has freelanced as leader of a trio or occasionally a quintet.
All these jobs, no matter how short-lived, contributed to the sum total of his knowledge, for Tyner is a musician who responds sensitively to no matter what context and is forever on the trail of something to learn and incorporate into his own ethos.
The opening track, "Mode to John," is dedicated to the man with whom he spent six formative and inspiring years, starting when he was barely 2 1 . As one might expect, it is a modal piece, though McCoy does not care to define it. Instead of talking about Dorian modes and other technicalities, he observes, "I'm not that academic about these things; I just play what I hear. I would say this has a d minor feeling and is reminiscent of some of the things I used to do with John."
The main phrase is rhythmically stimulating, with Joe Chambers playing an important role in rounding out the ensemble statements. (I didn't know Joe when he was in Philly, but we met in New York and I soon found out that he has his own way of playing. He knows how to interpret music tastily, probably because he's also a pianist and composer himself, so he knows how to listen to what a writer wants in a performance.")
McCoy's solo is characteristically beguiling in its development and gentle in its beauty, fashioned out of wondrously smooth single-note lines and shimmering chords. Lee Morgan builds from a cautious lower register opening into a higher-ranged passage for which the horns back him. The intensity of the performance mounts through James Spaulding's alto and the penetrating tenor of Bennie Maupin before the reprise of the theme.
"Man from Tanganyika" was inspired by "a fellow I knew who came from there," McCoy says. "I tried to get close to an African sound and feeling here. I like the way Howard Johnson's sound comes through in the ensembles - I think he's going to be a big man on tuba and can help expand the role of this instrument."
The meter on "Man from Tanganyika" fluctuates between 6/8 and 4/4. McCoy's scintillating solo reaffirms the mood established in the opening ensembles. The Spaulding flute passage brings into focus the individuality that can be drawn from this instrument, on which most soloists in the early days of its jazz use tended to sound pretty much alike. Spaulding is particularly valuable in the statement of the theme during the ensembles.
Julian Priester, whose trombone, like Bob Northern's French horn, is employed mostly for its value as part of the group sound, steps out for a passage of his own that evokes the early J. J. Johnson influence. McCoy comments, "I've known Julian since I first came to New York, and always admired his sound and the fluency of his style."
"The High Priest" is, of couse, McCoy's latest tribute to Thelonious Monk. Tyner once called Monk "truly an honorable contributor to music. - I have so much affection for him, and he was a tremendous influence on me." There was an earlier composition dedicated to him, "Monk's Blues," which McCoy introduced during a trio set at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1963. This new work, it seems to me, is more directly Monk-oriented in its melodic structure, its use of seconds and other unpredictable intervals, and its generally jagged, angular Monkishness. Try playing the 1 1-bar piano introduction and the first statement of the theme to an uninformed friend, and the chances are ten to one that he'll swear this is a Monk tune and a Monk group. But next, as soon as McCoy goes into his blowing passage, he becomes unmistakably himself again.
Highlights of this track are the strong, tenacious tenor of Bennie Maupin, the superb time and ideation in Lee Morgan's contribution, and the supple bass solo by Herbie Lewis just before McCoy jumps back into his Monk bag. Lewis, who hails from Pasadena, Cal., worked with Chico Hamilton and Les McCann before moving East. Tyner, with whom he works often, simply says: "He plays my music very well."
Of Bennie Maupin, he comments, "Bennie has been overdue for a break. He's been freelancing around New York for quite some time, and we've played some gigs together, but he landed a fine gig very recently when he joined Horace Silver's new quintet."
"Utopia," according to its composer, is a reflection, through its intensities and dynamics, of the ups and downs of our lives, with high points and moment of quiescence. This to me is an outstanding example of the Tyner talent as a writer, From the first pedal F on bass, through the flute trills to the dramatic entrance of the piano and the flute-led ensemble, everything moves with logic, and ultimately, a sense of urgency. Spaulding's sweeping, surging alto and Lee Morgan's melodically fervent statement are followed by a Maupin solo that sustains the mood in a simpler fashion. The piano solo and its background reminded me of an observation made by Tyner some years ago: "A rhythm section is a very sensitive thing; it is supposed both to support and inspire the soloist. When I play a solo, I may be inspired by what the preceding soloists have played, and also by the support the bassist and drummer are giving me."
Melodically the simplest, emotionally one of the most stirring of the original compositions in this set is "All My Yesterdays." "It's supposed to be a musical statement of some of my past experiences - a tender, emotional sort of melody," says McCoy. There is a classical beauty to the introduction and a stately majesty to the horns' delineation of the theme, which is fashioned around the second and third beats of each measure.
"All My Yesterdays" shows how full and rich an orchestral texture can be devised with only six horns when a writer of Tyner's ability applies himself to the task. Pianistically, too, this is a miniature masterpiece of grace and sensitivity.
"Lee Plus Three" is a maverick track, inasmuch as the orchestra is not employed. As the title implies, McCoy is heard simply with Lee Morgan, Herbie Lewis, and Joe Chambers.
"This has a sort of nostalgia for me," says McCoy. "Lee and I grew up together in Philadelphia, and played some of our first jobs together - fraternity dances and around town. I think one of the very first jobs ever played was in Atlantic City with a quartet, and Lee was the leader. We were both about 1 8. Lee developed into a truly great musician, and playing with him like this - just a 3/4 blues - took me back to the old days, more than ten years ago, when we were both just starting out."
McCoy's long opening foray, with its extensive use of eighth notes in the right hand and intelligently sustained chord in the left, paves the way for a typical performance by Lee, with its unmistakable Morgan triplets, the always personal sound, and the funky feeling suffusing the entire solo. McCoy then takes over until the concluding fade.
Reflecting on the results of his first orchestral album, McCoy told me he was convinced that there was a pen in his future. "I want to learn more and more about the use and placing of the instrumental voices. Each note becomes very important in a group of this kind, but I think I showed you can get a big, full sound with six horns."
In piloting this compatible group of musicians, McCoy clearly knew where he was headed. Evidently his passengers, eager to help him reach his destination with the least possible turbulence, were as responsive to his leadership as he was to their cooperation.
I will await with optimistic expectations, further dual evidence of this fast-maturing artist's talents as player and composer-arranger. As he modestly put it, he is trying to develop; but as I remarked at the outset, development can always be expected from an artist with the dedication and sincerity of Alfred McCoy Tyner.
- Leonard Feather (original liner notes)