McCoy Tyner, Derek Trucks: Timeless Melody
Guitars, a new CD/DVD project from pianist McCoy Tyner that features the jazz titan collaborating with guitarists Marc Ribot, John Scofield, Derek Trucks and Bill Frisell, among others, is at once familiar and bizarre. It's familiar because the record industry spits out marketable roundups of all-star jazz pickers with some frequency; it's bizarre because those projects typically don't host historic talent like Tyner and the rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette.
In the grand scheme of Tyner's discography — one of postwar jazz's most consistently invigorating — Guitars feels like more of a curious one-off than a significant late-career addendum. (That honor goes to 2007's Quartet.) But its concept is surreal enough to warrant a focused listen.
Trucks, the Allman Brothers slide guitarist who's grown from a much-hyped "blues prodigy" into a player of worldly depth, contributes two numbers: a confidently swinging take on "Slapback Blues" and a rendition of "Greensleeves" that, if nothing else, gets the guitarist a step closer to God — or, more specifically, John Coltrane.
A walking anachronism of sorts, Trucks is a student of the 1960s (and '70s), when blues-rock guitarists looked to technology for fortitude in sound, the blues for a vocabulary, and modern jazz for spiritual inspiration and lessons in group dynamics. With his own Derek Trucks Band, he's taken kitschy melodies Coltrane and Tyner transformed into magisterial psalms — namely "Greensleeves" and "My Favorite Things" — and used his already saxophonic slide guitar to craft Coltrane homages that, on the right night, can be transcendent.
The version on Guitars is remarkably chamber-like and straightforward when laid alongside those sweat-soaked jams; Trucks' tone is surprisingly blunt and coarse, and he plays as if his respect for the history in the room keeps his powerhouse tendencies in check. Still, this alternative is worthwhile: It's a thoughtful meditation on a timeless melody — something Coltrane himself always appreciated.
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