It’s hard to overstate the importance of McCoy Tyner in the world of jazz and jazz piano over the past 50 years. Working with the John Coltrane Quartet, he helped revolutionize the music, to entrench both modalism and the avant-garde firmly into jazz, and to foster its development as a spiritual conduit. He reharmonized jazz, creating new voicings and structures for the chords that anchor the piano that have since become the common currency. In the 1970s, he became a leader in the movement to adapt African sounds and compositional structures into jazz. He’s the composer of a significant number of standards, including “Passion Dance,” “Blues on the Corner,” and “You Taught My Heart To Sing.” He’s a giant—and he’s in town.
Tyner’s current band features bassist Gerald Cannon and Eric Kamau Gravatt (Weather Report) on drums. It also frequently includes alto saxophonist Gary Bartz, another major figure and longtime Tyner collaborator who nonetheless gets “special guest” billing in most cases. A caveat, however: Tyner’s live performances are inconsistent. He can transcend, he can electrify, and he can bore mightily; sometimes his playing says as pointedly as words “I’m just going through the motions.” But if you’re a jazz fan who has never seen this towering figure play before, that shouldn’t deter you for a second.
The McCoy Tyner Quartet featuring Gary Bartz performs at 7:30 p.m. at Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria. $39.50.