Tyner, Glover Bring Cultural Continuity to Reopened Howard Theatre
The pairing of McCoy Tyner’s trio with Savion Glover imbued Washington, D.C.’s newly reopened Howard Theatre with knowing historical reverence and a wise cultural continuation. The 73-year-old pianist was one of the many jazz stars who performed at the theater during its halcyon years, while the 38-year-old tap-dancing phenomenon is now one of those bright lights of the hip-hop generation. That said, Glover brings a lot of historical weight to the table, too, with his ability to channel the likes of Jimmy Slyde, Howard Sims and Gregory Hines.
Hines and Tyner have been collaborating since 2006. But at the Howard Theatre, their performance gave off a causal grace as if it was just another spirited gig rather than some highfalutin commissioned project. With Gerald Cannon’s stout bass firmly anchoring the music and Francisco Mela’s symphonic rhythmic bombs spurring the momentum, Tyner began the evening with a thundering treatment of his classic “Fly Like The Wind.” It’s uncertain whether it was because of a subpar sound system, a poorly tuned piano, or diminishing agility on Tyner’s part due to age, but the usual crispness of his quicksilver improvisations wasn’t always there. Oftentimes, the melodies got buried in undulating waves of block chords, hammering right-handed riffs and oceanic glissandos. But what Tyner’s pianism sometimes lacked in sonic clarity, he more than made up for by way of emotional immediacy and evocative drama.
Tyner eased up on intensity when Glover joined for a delightful exploration of Duke Ellington’s “In A Mellow Tone.” While Glover certainly added a visual zest to the stage, he kept his performance squarely in modern jazz improvisation as if he were functioning as an auxiliary percussionist. Indeed, some of his intricate rhythms alluded to timbales, congas and djembe drums, especially when the ensemble launched in “African Village” and the hypnotic “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit.” But Glover’s dancing also recalled how Max Roach used to drum melodically, especially when he engaged in feisty improvisational dialogue with Tyner. On “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit,” Glover also traded some electrifying rhythms with the superbly agile Mela.
After several jolting performances, filled with pentatonic scales and African- and Latin-inspired rhythms, the concert simmered to the agreeable “Blues On The Corner,” a personal tribute to many of Tyner’s childhood friends and a fitting one for the Howard Theatre’s comeback as the cultural epicenter for the District’s storied U Street.