James Pearson (piano), Byron Wallen (trumpet), Alex Garnett (alto saxophone), Jean Toussaint (tenor saxophone), Nathaniel Facey (baritone saxophone), Sam Burgess (double bass) & Shane Forbes (drums)
McCoy Tyner (piano), José James (voice), Chris Potter (tenor saxophone), Gerald Cannon (double bass) & Joe Farnsworth (drums)
Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith
Reviewed: 12 November, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
To celebrate fifty years of Impulse! Records, James Pearson (house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s) assembled a septet to play Oliver Nelson’s Blues and the Abstract Truth in its entirety. Quite an honour, considering the quality of Impulse! Records’ catalogue.
The band played the originals with reverence, with even the solos hinting at the originals – particularly Bryon Wallen whose trumpet phrasing recalled Freddie Hubbard, and Alex Garnett whose astringent alto shared some of the off-centred wildness of Eric Dolphy. But the band had enough taste and skill to stay the right side of slavish devotion: Nathaniel Facey took a solo (there are no baritone solos on the original) and Jean Toussaint’s tenor solos were refreshingly freer than Oliver Nelson’s rather restrained and academic originals.
McCoy Tyner, the legendary pianist of John Coltrane’s quartet, needs no anniversary gimmicks to pull in the crowds. His set was billed as a tribute to the only album Coltrane did with a singer – John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – but the audience’s roar as he shuffled on made it clear that he and he alone was the night’s biggest draw. Anyone expecting this frail old man with the gravelly voice to stick to gentle ballads was in for a shock with the storming opener, Fly Like the Wind, full of thunderous piano and Potter’s beseeching tenor sax, which sounded somewhere between Coltrane and Michael Brecker. Blues on the Corner was another crowd-pleasing stomper, followed by the gentle Ballad for Aisha, the segue into the vocal numbers.
José Jones did a fine job of singing an album recorded before he was born, his polished-mahogany voice startlingly close to Johnny Hartman’s. And Chris Potter comfortably shouldered the heavy burden of playing Coltrane’s role, playing with tasteful restraint on the sung ballads Autumn Serenade, Dedicated to You, You Are Too Beautiful, and My One and Only Love. The concert ended with what the crowd had probably come for: McCoy Tyner in full flight with a tenor saxophonist. With able support from the rhythm section of Gerald Cannon and Joe Farnsworth (who captured something of Elvin Jones’s polyrhythmic style of drumming) we got to experience the closest thing possible to hearing the John Coltrane Quartet in its prime.