This was the first McCoy Tyner album I bought, on the recommendation of my friend Josh Bloch, a couple decades ago when I was just starting to explore jazz beyond the superstars. Iâ€™d heard Tyner playing on recordings with one of those superstars, of course (John Coltrane), but his style had changed since then. Well, this recording (with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams on two of its five tracks) from a Tokyo festival on July 28, 1978 certainly convinced me of his merits away from the older context.
The album opens with the trio on â€œMomentâ€™s Notice,â€ a Coltrane tune played with explosive energy. And itâ€™s not just Tyner, whose fully two-handed style (with ringing chords, jangling tremolos, and whiplash runs) makes a piano sound as big as an orchestra; Williams rumbles and splashes like a percussive earthquake, and Carter zooms around the changes, simultaneously grounding the others rhythmically and pushing forward. Tyner takes several solo cadenzas of breathtaking virtuosity and quick-thinking brilliance. A performance like this would be the peak of most concerts; here it leads into a display of even greater energy and emotional/creative breadth. Itâ€™s no surprise that â€œPassion Danceâ€ is the title track; this Tyner original gets an epic solo reading thatâ€™s clangorous and all-encompassing; after every slight lull, it just keeps blasting higher and higher, for 11-1/2 minutes of ecstasy.
After that, we need a break, and the lovely â€œSearch for Peaceâ€ provides it â€“ just as intense in its own way, and still with high-octane moments, but showing Tynerâ€™s lyrical and melodic side as both composer and player. Then itâ€™s back to Coltrane for a tintinnabulatory solo reading of â€œThe Promise.â€ The trio rejoins Tyner for the closing â€œSong of the New Worldâ€ â€“ with the crowd shouting its approval immediately. The modal groove the trio lays down could inspire dancing if the sheer imagination of the playersâ€™ interaction didnâ€™t keep listeners roots in slack-jawed amazement.
Itâ€™s true that, recorded outdoors in a coliseum, the sound is brash, with Tynerâ€™s tone less rich and rounded than usual, but thatâ€™s a small price to pay to witness such a volcanic eruption of improvisational genius. And now itâ€™s back, on CD for what I believe is the first time. If 41 minutes seems short measure for a CD, well, in 2004, outtakes from this concert were already used to make up Counterpoints: Live in Tokyo. Besides, any more excitement than Passion Dance already contains might overload listenersâ€™ psyches. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based former editor of Creem Magazine and CDNow.com, editor of the acclaimed MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide, and contributor to The Big Takeover, Early Music America, and many other hip periodicals. He is a buyer at Sound Fix, a hot new record store in Williamsburg.