Ageless Jazz Icons Battle With the Rain and Then Stop It at Central Park Summerstage
“I made the rain stop,” McCoy Tyner grinned, and the couple hundred or so diehards who’d stood patiently through three torrential hours at Central Park Summerstage last night roared in appreciation. As if by magic, the downpour finally abated at practically the second that the jazz piano icon and his quartet took the stage. Before the skies burst, there had been a couple thousand others, at the very least, who’d crammed themselves between the labyrinth of wire fences or stood longingly outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Coltrane collaborator as well as sets by a couple of other elder jazz statesmen, the slightly younger Ron Carter and his quintet, and an even older one, the ageless 91-year-old Roy Haynes and his Fountain of Youth Band.
Carter opened the show while the celestial drainpipe overhead got busy. There’s no press tent at Summerstage anymore, so pretty much everybody who went there to write about it went home afterward soaked to the bone. But the show was worth it. Intentionally or not, Carter set the tone for the night, segueing from one number into another, pushing an almost omnipresent clave groove with his dancing basslines as the group winkingly shifted from one meter into the next, holding the remaining crowd pretty much rapt in the process. Pianist Renee Rosnes distinguished herself with nimble, pointillistic cascades and thoughtful, lyrical pirouettes when she wasn’t finding deep blues in a slow, ambered, darkly latin-flavored take of My Funny Valentine. Carter’s percussionist took a droll talking-drum solo, later adding tongue-in-cheek flourishes on his timbales while the bandleader went deep into the murk. Trumpeter Wallace Roney joined them and spun through purposeful volleys of postbop as the rhythm section swung harder. At the end, they went back to the clave, a beat that’s typically associated with latin music but actually dates from the first civilizations in Ethiopia, a simple human heartbeat, tense and expectant and ultimately joyous.
Haynes was next on the bill. By this time, the rain was really out of control. Jazz Police‘s astute reporter and Shakespeare scholar Sheila Horne Mason dryly observed that most of the people who’d left actually had umbrellas; most of us who remained didn’t. The nonagenarian drummer is literally none the worse for the years, playing with the effortless vigor of a man a quarter his age, showing off some of his signature moves – lefthand-versus-righthand bicoastal time zone variations, and others – as he swung his brushes with a regal thwack. They opened with a sunny, upbeat trip to Bahia and made their way the golden age postbop the bandleader’s best known for after that. Out in front of the group, Jaleel Shaw played jaunty, spiraling soprano sax, then switching to alto as the groove grew more gritty. As Carter did, they began where they left off.
Tyner flipped the script with his misterioso modalities. His mighty left hand has lost none of its crushing drive; this time out, he began with a judicious chordal approach and as the groove loosened, his right hand went further into exploratory glimmer. Like Dave Brubeck before him, Tyner has always been more about melody and trajectory rather than blinding speed, although his attack is a lot harder. The set seemed to go by in a flash, although he got a full fifty or so minutes onstage. Uneasily vamping, circular passages moved purposefully, almost imperceptively toward majestic, otherworldly Northern African terrain, an area Tyner has explored more than anybody except maybe Randy Weston. He took the crowd to church with a blues and finally swung hard at the end. The crowd roared for an encore: considering overall exhaustion throughout the venue for crew and musicians as well as audueince, there wasn’t any.
Central Park Summerstage programs a wide variety of music, with the occasional jazz show. The next one is a hot swing triplebill on June 25 starting at 3 PM with trumpeter. Bria Skonberg and the NY Hot Jazz Festival All-Stars including Anat Cohen, Vince Giordano, Joe Saylor and Dalton Ridenhour, cosmopolitan female-fronted swing combo the Hot Sardines, and irrepressible slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein’s big blazing New Orleans-flavored piano-based nonet, Butler, Bernstein and the Hot 9. Bring a sun hat, sunscreen and a big umbrella – in the age of global warming, you never know.