After a brief sortie into the mid -70s, LJC returns to the early 60s, closer to Home.
Selection: Contemporary Focus
. . .
Impulse title containing two sessions, recorded eight months apart, three tracks in trio, three in sextet with John Gilmore (Sun Ra Arkestra), released in July 1964.
TRIO: (Autumn Leaves, Night In Tunisia, When Sunny Gets Blue)
McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Tootie Heath, drums. ; Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 4, 1963
SEXTET: (Contemporary Focus, Three Flowers, T ‘N A Blues)
Thad Jones, trumpet; Frank Strozier, alto sax; John Gilmore, tenor sax; McCoy Tyner, piano; Butch Warren, bass; Elvin Jones, drums, NYC, February 4, 1964
Fourth of six titles Tyner recorded for Impulse! at a time he was a little over half-way through his five year apprenticeship with The John Coltrane Quartet, before jumping ship to Blue Note to go his own separate way. In those five years “Tyner developed a new vocabulary that transcended the piano styles of the time, providing a unique harmonic underpinning and rhythmic charge essential to the Coltrane group’s sound”. (Quoted fromTyner’s own site, McCoyTyner.com. Who else better qualified to explain Tyner’s approach and contribution than Tyner himself? Certainly not me)
Tyner is often described as the most influential stylist of jazz piano, the role-model for all up and coming pianists. Which might explain why he can sound much like everyone else. Because most pianists have modelled themselves on him. If every painter painted like Picasso, then Picasso’s work would look like everyone elses. If every bandleader had followed Sun Ra…we’d all agree, Space is, like, really really boring.
This is this the sort of insight that is unique to LJC, profound or uniquely stupid, take your pick.
John Gilmore on shore leave from Saturn, need I say more? Oh alright then, I will.
“Today and Tomorrow” is arguably McCoy’s best album for Impulse, and rivalled only by his subsequent first title for Blue Note (Liberty), The Real McCoy (1967). Tyner still shines in the richer sextet setting and the music is more compelling than in trio. The only improvement could have been for the Sextet to take the whole album. Half a cake is better than none, though recently published research “Having your Cake And Eating It” Gluttony Press 2018;4(2): 341–353 suggests a whole cake is more than a half, possibly even twice so, however further research is needed to confirm this.
Two standards from the jazz playbook, Autumn Leaves and Night in Tunisia, have familiar tunes given a remarkably fresh reading, but the standout track is the intense, modal beast “Contemporary Focus“, an odd choice of title, more suited to an office furniture catalogue. A bit like the album title itself, “Today and Tomorrow”, stiff, didactic, and instantly forgettable. You wouldn’t forget “Kinda Blue”
The three horns take no prisoners: Thad Jones liquid gold trumpet, Strozier’s blues-inflected alto and Gilmore’s intense tenor all ride the deck on board Tyner’s war-craft, with Elvin Jones power in the engine room below, navigating over Butch Warren’s buoyant bass. How to murder-a-metaphor. The very excellent Flophouse Magazine blogged a very detailed review of this album earlier in the year (hat-tip Francois!) which I just found, so I will step aside at this point.
Vinyl: Impulse AS-63-A
Gatefold: some water-damage to the cover (that sea-going metaphor again?). Impulse gatefolds are a nice artefact, laminated thick card cover, artist portraiture and informative thoughtful liner notes, though the best feature of Impulse, as all Impulse collectors know, is the two colour spine. Especially in a line, with two hundred others.
Today and Tomorrow is one of Van Gelder better engineering sessions – though nearly all are very good, and better than most other engineers (however notably Fred Plaut, Roy DuNann, some others hold their own). Van Gelder kept his methods to himself, among the first to make use of the new tube-mics from Telefunken, so he doesn’t sound like everyone else, or at least not until the 80’s. By then everyone had the same microphones, multitrack studio equipment, valves hade given way to solid state technology, and eventually, digital processes, levelling the playing field by lowering the bar.
Dynamic and tonal range is natural, bass dry and taut, top end crystalline, lots of punch, and engineered thinking for stereo, instrument placement is convincing in trio and sextet, presence in the room. Combined with top notch playing, this album is a must, wish I had found it sooner. Surprisingly, I had not encountered it in the flesh before, which suggests to me it’s somewhat rare.
Original should be Orange/Black label, without the -A -B suffix on the label, but curiously, some samples also stereo stickered jacket over mono also with the suffix
By 1964 mono sales were waning, and hence rarer at auction in that more sought after format. With the shift in demand towards stereo, the presence of “”STEREO” stickers on mono covers is probably due to a surplus of mono covers having been printed and now needing to be used up.
Top 20 Ebay auction results still confirm this is a seriously undervalued title, whichever the format.
I suspect original sales were disappointing, in which case I blame the label executive’s ill-judged choice of album cover picture (not an especially powerful image of Tyner which is poorly composed – eyes leading out of the frame.) The title “Today and Tomorrow” is uninspired, suffering future fatigue. Optimism about the future was a ’50s post-war meme, an aspiration, which had worn thin in the wake failure to be realised.
Some people yearn for Yesterday, or the promise of jam Tomorrow. I recommend Today as the only place to be. It may not be much but it’s all we have, use it wisely, it may not last forever.
McCoy Tyner is still active, today. I decided after writing this piece I must pull his other titles off my shelf for another spin. I owe him nothing less, starting with Reaching Fourth.
Any thoughts, recommendations of other Tyner work, or reminiscences, welcome, as always, a good use of Today.