Pianist McCoy Tyner's appearance at Catalina Bar & Grill this week comes only four months after an engagement at the Jazz Bakery, a notably rapid Los Angeles reappearance for a major-name jazz act.
Given the facts that his Bakery gig was reportedly the consequence of a dispute--since resolved--with Catalina, and that his Bakery performance was characterized by what was then less than satisfactory audio, it's understandable that Tyner might want to re-establish himself quickly in an old familiar venue. But it may take a while. The room was only half-filled for his opening set Wednesday night.
Perhaps intentionally, Tyner took a significantly different interpretive tack from his performance at the Bakery. Although he still relied heavily on standards and ballads, his readings were more aggressive and focused, very much in the hammer-chorded, note-splashed, rhythmically complex style typical of his work with John Coltrane in the 1960s. This was especially effective in up-tempo versions of "What Is This Thing Called Love?," "My Secret Heart" and a couple of Tyner originals.
Somewhat more curious was his odd rendering of a Chopin Prelude, in which its suspended melody and moving inner lines were tossed into a high-powered rhythmic hopper, eventually spewing forth with long, stretched out chromatic repetitions smacking of flamenco harmonies--very odd. Tyner was more appealing in his solo piano feature on "My Secret Heart," mixing Art Tatum-like keyboard runs with whimsical stride piano inserts, lush chording and rapid-fire be-bop melodic articulations. But it was the only piece of the evening that fully displayed the length and breadth of his abilities.
Most of the solo plaudits for the set, in fact, would have to be awarded to bassist Avery Sharpe, who is speedily emerging as an important voice on his instrument. (With Sharpe and Christopher McBride, among others, on the scene there will be few worries about the state of the jazz bass in the '90s.) Sharpe played extended choruses on almost every tune with a probing musical curiosity that was enhanced by his technical virtuosity. But drummer Aaron Scott, a vital member of this usually fine-tuned ensemble, was in a bashing mood, spending much of his solo time, as well as his section contributions, banging holes through the music.
Tyner's swift return to Catalina obviously is a calculated risk, in terms of potential attendance at the club. Since there are relatively rare Southland opportunities to hear prominent jazz performers, however, it will be a shame if there are any empty seats for this always fascinating, always provocative artist.
* The McCoy Tyner Trio at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday. 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (213) 466-2210. $12 cover tonight and Sunday, $14 cover Friday and Saturday, with two-drink minimum. Tyner performs two shows nightly, at 8:30 and 10:30 .