Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September 27: McCoy Tyner, "Passion Dance"

Artist: McCoy Tyner
Song: "Passion Dance"
Album: The Real McCoy
Year: 1967

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All across the history of jazz music, there are countless musicians who helped to push the genre forward, and a majority of these names stand among the most iconic in all of music history.  However, within these names there are an elite few who stand out for an entirely different reason.  Not only were these select few musicians some of the most influential on their particular instrument, but they were able to make their presence known as a "sideman" before taking a leading role within a band.  Though there are only a handful of musicians who can make such a claim, there are few that can do so with as stunning a resumé as both a sideman and leader as that of McCoy Tyner.  Serving as the pianist for the great John Coltrane, it was often Tyner's performances that pushed Coltrane to the heights he reached, and the interplay between the two musicians remains absolutely unparalleled to this day.  Yet all throughout his recordings behind Coltrane, one can detect a spirit that was looking to go off in an entirely new direction, and when this finally occurred, McCoy Tyner began creating and releasing some of the most phenomenal recordings in the entire history of jazz.  All throughout the middle and late 1960's, Tyner recorded with his own band, and there are few jazz records that can measure up to his 1967 release, The Real McCoy.  Filled with some of his most brilliant work as a player and composer, there are few songs in McCoy Tyner's recorded history that can measure up to the musical emotion and talent on display all throughout the albums' lead track, "Passion Dance."

The moment that "Passion Dance" kicks off, a number of realities are instantly evident, the most clear of which may be the fact that Tyner has a composition style all his own.  There is a bounce and swing to the track that is quite distant from his previous work, and the fact that he was able to establish himself as so clearly different from his previous role surely played a large factor in his solo success.  Yet it is also the obvious chemistry between the members of the quartet that instantly grab the listener, and "Passion Dance" is one of the tightest and most enjoyable jazz recordings in history.  This connection is not all that surprising, as it is led by drumming legend Elvin Jones, with whom Tyner had played many years in his previous role.  Jones is in rare form on "Passion Dance," as he pushes the song forward with a relentless skip, working his cymbals as never before.  His performance is complimented by another legend, bassist Ron Carter, and the fact that these three were in the same studio almost guarantees a musical result that could be nothing short of stellar.  Carter absolutely flies up and down the fret-board, and in many ways it is the controlled speed shown by the rhythm section that makes "Passion Dance" such a unique musical experience.  The duo seem to blaze around the corners of the composition, and the sense of freedom that one can detect in their playing is what sets the song apart from most other jazz recordings.

However, while the rhythm section is absolutely brilliant on every moment of the track, it is the other half of the quartet that push "Passion Dance" into the highest group of jazz performances.  Though he had already made his talents clear within the confines of his previous groups, McCoy Tyner plays with a sound and spirit here that was rarely heard before.  The level of expression and passion with which he performs all across the song is nothing short of stunning, and the complexity he brings is in many ways what jazz music is all about.  Seamlessly moving from the lead to backing his bandmates, "Passion Dance" has a flow far beyond that of most other jazz songs, and this is a testament to Tyner's talents as a band leader.  Finding a number of different ways to approach the musical theme, Tyner plays in various tempos throughout "Passion Dance," and it is this unending exploration that make the song impossible to forget.  It is also the presence and playing of tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson that make the track so fantastic, and one can argue that it is the distinct sound and style with which Henderson plays that enables "Passion Dance" to separate itself from the earlier work of Tyner.  Henderson gives the track a superb spin and a great deal of rising and falling, and this addtional depth is what turns the song into an absolute jazz classic.

After experiencing the entire work that is "Passion Dance," one can argue that there may be no more difficult a task in music history than for an artist to stand firmly on their own after being a part of a truly revolutionary musical project.  Yet this is exactly what McCoy Tyner achieved, and while one cannot discount his work with John Coltrane in the slightest, there is no question that his talents as a band leader are far beyond that of almost any other artist.  The combined sound of the quartet is as tight as one can find anywhere, and the ease with which they pass the lead all across the song is as good as jazz music gets.  There is a shared chemistry between the four performers, and yet there is also an unselfish approach from each of them, and this freedom to explore is what makes "Passion Dance" such a phenomenal musical moment.  Focusing on the efforts of Tyner, one can easily argue that the combination of technical precision and overall artistic creativity that he shows is as good as one can find anywhere, and it is this pairing of styles that vault him to the level of one of the greatest pianists in all of music history.  The music itself seems to flow effortlessly from his fingers, and the power with which he plays makes the title of the composition completely fitting.  Pushing hard at a rather speedy pace, the quartet create a sound that appeals far beyond that of "just jazz," and it is this reason that there are few songs from any genre that can hold their own when compared to McCoy Tyner's brilliant 1967 recording, "Passion Dance."

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