* * 1/2
It's fitting that Tyner is now recording for the newly revived Impulse! label. His first trio albums for the original Impulse! helped establish his identity outside the John Coltrane quartet (which also recorded on Impulse!), marking him as a pianist with a distinct improvisational style and harmonic voicings. The irony of this current release is that Tyner is again obscured by a saxophonist, this time the ubiquitous Michael Brecker, who recalls Coltrane with a sound that, at times, mimics both the late saxman's tone and passion.
The comparisons invited by Brecker's participation are not flattering. While Tyner is his usual vivacious self, piling chords hard against the other or swirling in cyclonic fashion against a persistent left hand, Brecker's work seems predictable and without storyline. His trades with Tyner on "Changes" are especially revealing, as Tyner unleashes one singing chorus after another with Brecker adding little of substance in between.
Without the saxophonist, Tyner's brilliance is on full display. His rhythmic variations on "Blues Stride" never lose sight of the stride tradition as he introduces more modern twists and echoes. He doesn't trivialize the good-time, funk feel of "Happy Days," instead developing a solo with both intellectual and physical passion.
Tyner's longtime trio mates, bassist Avery Sharpe and drummer Aaron Scott, provide accompaniment so polished it's almost invisible behind the piano. But four's a crowd on this ultimately frustrating release. Without Brecker, "Infinity" would have easily rated a full three stars.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good, recommended), four stars (excellent).