Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 November, 2008, 12:00am

Jazz fans who enjoyed pianist McCoy Tyner's memorable performance at City Hall in September will welcome the release of Guitars, a two-disc CD/DVD set featuring the veteran master of the keyboard trading solos with some modern masters of the fretboard.

The album is very slightly misnamed. Bela Fleck, whose three contributions are among the finest on the disc, plays the banjo, and will be the first to tell you that it's a very different instrument to the guitar.

The other featured soloists, however, comprise two-thirds of the holy trinity of players who have defined modern jazz guitar - Bill Frisell and John Scofield, with Pat Metheny curiously missing - plus avant-garde stylist Marc Ribot and young lion of blues/rock slide Derek Trucks.

The rhythm section is quite something too: Jack DeJohnette on drums and the magnificent Ron Carter on bass.

Tyner had apparently not played with guitarists - or presumably banjoists - before, and was keen to give it a try. The sessions took place on two days in September 2006, and were cut entirely live.

Ribot, who is used to a different approach to recording with artists such as Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, suggested at one point that he might overdub a solo, and was told in no uncertain terms by Carter that this was not an option open to him.

Frisell, Scofield and Trucks were all recorded on the first day, and Ribot and Fleck on the second, a couple of weeks later. It is the second session that is, on the whole, the more interesting of the two.

In addition to strong performances with Carter and DeJohnette of Tyner's Passion Dance and the folk tune 500 Miles, Ribot laid down three duets of pure improvisation with just Tyner.

All the tunes on the album were chosen by the guest soloists, and the suggestion that Tyner play 'free' came, bravely, from Ribot, eliciting the response: 'Great, man. John and I used to go into the studio and do that all the time.'

Tyner is undoubtedly his own man, but the ghost of John Coltrane is always in the wings at his performances, and it's no surprise that Scofield chose Mr PC, Trucks asked for Greensleeves, and Fleck opted to take a crack at My Favourite Things.

Fleck's playing here is characterised by the adventurous fluency of his duo album with Chick Corea, The Enchantment, recorded at around the same time, but with the additional kick supplied by the bass and drums, not to mention Tyner's altogether more forceful style as a pianist.

Scofield sensibly sticks to the blues for his two contributions, and plays with his usual imagination and authority, while Trucks plays Tyner's Slapback Blues with considerable brio. Frisell explores a different aspect of Tyner the composer, by choosing Contemplation, before taking the pianist into his own zone with Boubacar and Baba Drame from 2003's The Intercontinentals.

Tyner is on top form throughout, as are Carter and DeJohnette.

This is a fine CD of varied music, and the accompanying interactive DVD provides a fascinating home movie of the sessions.