Though a noted musical explorer, dabbling in everything from African rhythms to the big-band genre over the years, pianist McCoy Tyner, whose trio opened Tuesday at Catalina, remains a powerful interpreter of songs mainly based on the conventional 32-bar format.
Plunging into the melodies sans introduction, Tyner, who's appearing through Sunday, opened with "Beautiful Love," infusing high energy and intensity into a 60-year-old Victor Young song before yielding to bassist Avery Sharpe. Bowing, plucking and strumming, Sharpe matched Tyner's vigorous drive.
"Rio," a Tyner original, moved through dramatic waves of sonic tension and release, with drummer Aaron Scott driving the group before taking over for a lengthy solo that built to a blockbusting crescendo.
Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud" found Tyner in a bop-oriented mood marked by showers of 16th notes. Scott and Sharpe left the stage while the leader blended strength and sensitivity on "We'll Be Together Again."
The trio reached its cohesive peak on a hard-hitting treatment of Duke Ellington's "In a Mellotone," with Tyner injecting so much of his own style that you had the feeling he, rather than Ellington, was the composer.