Saturday, October 08, 2005

In praise of side(wo)men

McCoy Tyner: just because he's spent the last 40 years as a leader of bands doesn't mean he isn't still widely known and loved as a sideman with that incredible quartet of John Coltrane's.

Charnett Moffett: played the bass with McCoy last night (at Finale, a new club at a swanky hotel in Clayton). I thought I'd never heard him before. What I heard: almost inhuman virtuosity, like Jaco, the curmudgeonly critics say. And they're right: hitting with his knuckles in a fast motion that blurred his thumb, plucking with the bow, and just playing with amazing depth and passion. Oh yeah.

Turns out he appears as a sideman on two CDs I own: Kenny Kirkland's sole CD as a leader and Kenny Garrett's Triology. Sideman for the two Kennys.

That's the thing about sidemen and women: I almost never notice them until I see them live. Or unless they're part of an established band. But they're worth noticing. Goodness. I've missed so much sound by not paying attention to Moffett's bass work all these years.

It was another amazing night of music, friends. St. Louis is bringing them in this year. McCoy was introduced, he came out, began to play the very moment he was sitting down. Played Manalyuca (hear it here, with Charnett on bass even). Kept playing. There were a few moments of confusion when, after playing St. Louis Blues an hour after starting, he said, "Thank you," stood up, exited. Charnett and the drummer (Eric Harland -- another amazing sideman I had truly never heard, as far as I know) exited. Was that it? Only an hour of playing? We in the audience began clapping tentatively, then harder, louder, hoping for at least an encore if that was really it. Finally, we stopped clapping. Some people stood up, milled about. After five or ten minutes, McCoy returned. Said the others were taking an early lunch, played solo. After the solo, the trio reconvened for another half hour.

McCoy Tyner. He's a great leader--I loved watching his attentive listening to his trio members, his unrelenting meeting of their musical challenges, and theirs of his--but I can't help thinking of him as a sideman. A Love Supreme (along with Kind of Blue) was one of the two albums that really pulled me into jazz. And you can't listen to that album, or anything by the Classic Quartet, without being struck by that firm hand on the keyboard. I keep thinking, though, not of any of Coltrane's pieces but of the opening of Wayne Shorter's "Juju" as classic McCoy. Maybe it's because a few years back I was listening for weeks to that piece on the more recent Footprints Live, with Danilo Perez on the piano. Perez is a wonderful player, but he doesn't have the forceful approach of McCoy. So when, after weeks of the new Juju, I went back to hear the old one, I was blown away with those opening notes.

And I was blown away last night. Blown away by the playing of all those beautiful sidemen.


Becky Howard said...

It's items like this that keep me from thinking I have heaven on earth out here in the country. Good live jazz is mostly a city treat, and a treat you did get! Although I should note that I've seen Don Cherry in Syracuse and Lester Bowie in (of all places) little Norwich. But McCoy Tyner? Sounds like a wonderful performance.

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