Last Night: McCoy Tyner Trio at Yoshi's Oakland

Categories: Last Night

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McCoy Tyner Trio (with special guests Mark Ribot and Azar Lawrence)
Yoshi's Oakland
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Notes by Janine Kahn
Photos courtesy Yoshi's

It's 7:50 p.m. at Yoshi's Jack London Square location and the house is filling up, with folks squeezing into seats tagged with bright yellow reservation tickets and others milling past the venue's walls, which are lined with black-and-whites of many a jazz legend - kind of like the guy some in attendance crossed the Bay Bridge to see tonight.

A Steinway grand piano takes up half of the stage; the other side is packed with a drum kit and stand-up bass, while the tip of the performance space is set up for guest guitarist Marc Ribot. The show starts promptly at 8, with Ribot and two members of the esteemed McCoy Tyner trio, Gerald Cannon (bass) and Jack DeJohnette Eric Kamau Gravatt (drums), making themselves comfy. Then the man of the hour, who we saw sneaking a peek at the crowd from behind the dark curtains like the shy teen he probably wasn't - he was jamming with Miles Davis’ sideman saxophonist John Coltrane at 17, for Pete's - emerges from a left hand portal in a velvet burgundy jacket and plops himself down by the keys.

McCoy Tyner smiles his toothy, winning smile and nods to Ribot, who kicks things off with a spirited guitar solo. The other two follow with funky solos of their own, and then the foursome play "Fly with the Wind," which Tyner later tells us was recorded in nearby San Francisco.

"It's a very special evening when you get to perform with musicians of this caliber," the pianist tells us before introducing the next number, "Blues on the Corner."

At a somewhat central location near the back of the room, a woman launches into some sort of interpretative dance at this point, with only a shawl for a prop. My date writes her off as a Tyner enthusiast, but closer inspection (and the not so small fact that she has a) lights on her and b) doesn't appear to know how to take a break) has me thinking she's a hired addition to the act. The other patrons generally ignore the lass, coming and going past her on their way to the restrooms.

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Song three (whose name was not revealed, and was perhaps an improv. piece, which is not beyond Tyner) starts with a soft introduction followed by a bright flowing of keys, and the three leave the master on stage to pound the piano with gusto. Tyner may be turning 71 next month, but his left hand is every bit as percussive as rumor had it; and his right hand is just as energetic, coming down in a swan dive to strike the highest key on the board out of the blue as if to see if we were paying attention. He ends the rampage as softly as he started, and for those in attendance who like to wax poetic, it's almost like snowflakes lightly touching the ground.

For the fourth song, the trio come back onstage, and Tyner looks for a friend - L.A.-based saxophonist Azar Lawrence - in the crowd. Lawrence, still clad in his thick leather jacket, squeezes between the other musicians and takes center stage. The group begins a jam session as the sax man, knowing he's in for a sweat, shrugs the jacket off and hands it to a gal pal in the front row. Then he's off, rising above the hubbub and is an instant hit with the audience, which responds with loud hoots and applause.

Its not surprising that the song that really brings the crowd together is the song that comes next, a Duke Ellington composition, "In a Mellow Tone."

McCoy adds his own flavor to the piece and the band appears to be the tightest they'd been all night. This song has it all: soul, dynamics and chemistry among the musicians. Then Ribot takes what we thought was his best solo of the night (in this song alone, his riffs were very much reminiscent of Wes Montgomery's). You don't have to be a fan of jazz to appreciate this number; the whole thing was very easy on the ears but, then again, that's The Duke and that's McCoy.

After a few more old school jams littered with solos, smiles and good-natured bobs of Tyner's head, the five wrap it up and walk offstage. The crowd wants more but the house lights switch on and the begging dies down. Then the announcer invites everyone to come back at 10 p.m. to enjoy Tyner's next set for free, but the venue filters out pretty quickly.

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Critics' Notebook:

Personal Bias: We'll take soulful guitar solos over the frenzied epileptic variety any time, any day.

Random Detail: Yoshi's menu has some very cute, music-themed cocktails. We tried the "bon dance," a ginger sake martini ($9). And though neither of us often strays from Ketel One straight up, we thought it was charming.

By the Way: McCoy and co. will be jamming at Yoshi's Oakland till Sunday, November 23rd.

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