Review: By Scott Yanow Los Angeles Jazz Scene, December 2018
WCS 102 Passion Reverence Transcendence
Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okan Essiet (Music of McCoy Tyner)

The two most influential pianists to emerge during the 1960s were McCoy Tyner and Bill Evans. Tyner, who became famous for his playing with the John Coltrane Quartet of 1960-65, recorded many classic albums during the half-century that followed. His passionate and powerful style with its personal chord voicings and mastery of modal jazz certainly made an impression on pianist Benito Gonzalez as can be heard throughout this tribute album to Tyner. Bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Gerry Gibbs have been good friends since they were teenagers when Gibbs was leading a McCoy Tyner cover band. The three musicians all came together in 2011 as the Azar Lawrence Quartet, leading to Gibbs’ decision to produce this memorable CD.

The trio performs nine Tyner originals including “Fly With The Wind,” “Blues On The Corner,” “You Taught My Heart To Sing” and “Atlantis.” In addition, Gonzalez is showcased on an unaccompanied version of Coltrane’s “Naima” and each musician contributes an original that is very much in Tyner’s style. Throughout the program, Benito Gonzalez not only sounds very close to McCoy Tyner in his playing but he really captures the pianist’s spirit, particularly from the era when Tyner was most creative and fiery, the 1970s. Essiet and Gibbs play enthusiastically in the same style that they would be utilizing if actually performing with Tyner. Essiet contributes some outstanding solos while Gibbs, who also is heard on percussion, really pushes the other musicians.

McCoy Tyner contributed a quote to the liner notes, saying how happily surprised and pleased he is by this tribute. Fans of his music and modern jazz piano in general will feel the same way.

Review: By Mike Jurkovic All About Jazz, August 2018
WCS 102 Passion Reverence Transcendence
Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okan Essiet (Music of McCoy Tyner)

In the grand, giving spirit of the master, pianist Benito Gonzalez, drummer Gerry Gibbs and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet hold absolutely nothing back and pull no punches on their exhilarating tribute to McCoy Tyner, Passion Reverence Transcendence.

With each tune taped in a single take, the trio explodes with a bold and proclamatory rush. "Fly with the Wind" (originally written by Tyner for trio and strings in 1976) sets the bar high and never looks back. It's a feverish give and take as Gonzalez aggressively reveals the melodic nuances with punchy, crackling clarity, leading Gibbs and Essiet who are, without any exaggeration, literally a locomotive steaming down the tracks, from one sonic leap to the next.

The trio then takes a perceptible rock 'n roll stance on Tyner's early 90's composition "Just Feelin,'" featuring a fierce and rubbery bass solo that seamlessly unleashes Gonzalez's right hand into numerous flights of creative fancy. "Rotunda," a late 70's Tyner highlight, is a total eruption, with Gibbs' rock solid, furious, muscular propulsion and Essiet's brilliant, fleet fingered interplay leaving you to marvel. Quiet, harp-like tones and various percussion herald "Festival in Bahia" before that too becomes a celebratory full force gale with Gonzalez especially playing the melody off the Afro/Brazilian undercurrents set up by his playful rhythm section.

And we're barely twenty five minutes into the music. Can they keep this pace up?

They can. And will after they take a breather. "Blues On the Corner" is a loose and loping blues which Gonzalez approaches with a Thelonious Monk-like, mischievous glee. Essiet again delivers a fascinating solo on the richly layered, energetic "The Greeting." Gonzalez then pares down 1974's expansive gem "Atlantis" from it's original eighteen minutes to just over a third of the time, but reveals as much of Tyner's intuition for harmonic construction and invention in that time as possible. Another blow-out.

Before concluding the outing with three Tyner-inspired compositions of their own, the trio treats "You Taught My Heart to Sing," a lyrical ballad from the mid 80's, with rolling elegance. The pianist then takes a stunning solo turn on John Coltrane's everlasting "Naima," which Tyner has rendered sublimely uncountable times. You need only ears to experience the beauty.

Essiet's Weather Report styled "Tyner Train Express" highlights Gibbs' synthesizer and a pumping baseline. Gibbs' mid-tempo "Between Friends" and Gonzalez's explosive, improvisational set ending "Brazilian Girls" are more in the McCoy Tyner vein, but that hardly matters. The three have done themselves and Tyner more than justice on Passion Reverence Transcendence. They've returned Tyner to the fore and blasted themselves into that rare territory of contemporary jazz masters themselves.

Review: By Doug Simpson Audiophile Audition, June 2018
WCS 102 Passion Reverence Transcendence
Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okan Essiet (Music of McCoy Tyner)

There are jazz artists who create magic which inspires other musicians. Pianist and composer McCoy Tyner is one of those artists. His presence looms through the 77-minute, 13-track Passion Reverence Transcendence: The Music of McCoy Tyner. Venezuelan pianist Benito Gonzalez (who has recorded with Ron Blake, Azar Lawrence and Christian McBride); percussionist/drummer Gerry Gibbs (his résumé includes Tyner, Stanley Clarke, Alice Coltrane and others); and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet (he has performed or recorded with Kenny Barron, Kurt Elling, Kenny Garrett and more) offer a testament to Tyner’s legacy with nine pieces penned by Tyner; three trio originals; and a John Coltrane tune. Gonzalez, Gibbs and Essiet are not shy about their adoration for Tyner. In the CD liner notes Gonzalez admits, “I listened to [Tyner] every day because I loved the freedom, and most of all the spirit that was coming out of his playing.” Gibbs states, “By the time I was 14 years old, McCoy Tyner had become my biggest musical influence. By 16, I owned every solo LP of McCoys.” When he was older, Gibbs shared a stage with Tyner and they have maintained a closeness since then. Essiet and Gibbs became friends when they were 13—the two were later in a Tyner covers band—and Essiet says, “When Gerry Gibbs asked me to do the McCoy project…I was thrilled to do it.” Gibbs, Gonzalez and Essiet first got together in saxophonist Azar Lawrence’s group. Gibbs declares, “The three of us had an instant connection.”

Passion Reverence Transcendence is a nearly non-stop energy rush. Each tune was taped in a single take. Gibbs then spent one afternoon overdubbing his contributions except the drums on one cut. From the get-go on the 6:36 “Fly with the Wind” (the title track from a 1976 Tyner LP), the trio pushes and propels the material into a heated exchange of communication, camaraderie and confluence. Even more fiery and fulminous is the six-minute adaptation of “Rotunda” (from Tyner’s 1977 record, Inner Voices.) Gibbs, Gonzalez and Essiet sustain a frenzied pace which never slows down or falters. Gibbs employs various percussion instruments throughout the album and adds several of them for the poised, lengthy “Festival in Bahia,” (another from Inner Voices) including harp in the genteel introduction. When the number kicks into a higher gear Gibbs brings in drums and other percussion elements which support an African rhythmic undercurrent. Gibbs’ multifarious percussive instruments are also used throughout a six-minute, swinging “Atlantis” (the title track from Tyner’s famed 1974 LP). The threesome trim this down quite a lot (Tyner’s version was 18 minutes) and provide plenty of great moments. The way the rhythm is tossed out via piano, bass and drums is resounding and wonderous. “Atlantis” is an incontestable workout.

One of the shortest cuts is the gentle ballad “You Taught My Heart to Sing,” from McCoy Tyner & Jackie McLean’s 1985 duet project, It’s About Time. “You Taught My Heart to Sing” is beautiful and melodically lyrical. The trio’s delightful arrangement focuses on Gibbs’ rolling percussion, Gonzalez’s lovely piano chords and Essiet’s superb acoustic bass. Another stunner is Gonzalez’s solo piano rendition of Coltrane’s “Naima,” where Gonzalez balances harmonic and melodic improvisation into a sublime and sometimes elaborate equilibrium.

Passion Reverence Transcendence concludes with three originals, one per trio member. Up first is Essiet’s “Tyner Train Express” a fusion-tinged homage which includes Gibbs’ mini-Moog and Essiet’s bumping electric bass. “Tyner Train Express” has a distinct, Weather Report-type affinity. Then comes Gibb’s “Between Friends,” which probably hints at his long friendship with Tyner. “Between Friends” has a Latin jazz nuance and is a medium swinger filled with aplomb and assurance. The final piece is Gonzalez’s seven-minute jazz portrait, “Brazilian Girls,” which commences with Gonzalez’s solo piano introduction. From there, the trio instigates a sprinting run through thematic jazz with strong melodic gusts and plenty of improvisational space for Gibb’s drum set and percussion, Gonzalez’s piano and Essiet’s bass. If you’re a fan of Tyner’s solo work then Passion Reverence Transcendence is well worth discovering.

Review: By Marco Cangiano New York City Jazz Record, July 2018
WCS 102 Passion Reverence Transcendence
Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okan Essiet (Music of McCoy Tyner)

Tributes to legends, whether living or long gone, are never easy, a challenge between competent interpretation of the past and daring transposition of the artist’s legacy into the future: the former risks being overly respectful, the latter at times fails to reinterpret that legacy in the spirit of today’s sound. The music presented in this album falls somewhat in between these two extremes. While delivering a solid performance of pianist McCoy Tyner’s material, the original compositions do not succeed in transposing his legacy into modernity.

With the exception of “Blues on the Corner” (1967) and “Just Feelin’” (1991), the choice of Tyner material concentrates on the mid to late ‘70s, a transition period between the early explosive yet deeply spiritual Milestone albums to more subdued and varied moods. The selection of “Rotunda” and “Festival in Bahia” from the Inner Voices album is quite telling in this respect: these compositions receive a more essential and energetic treatment by pianist Benito Gonzalez, drummer Gerry Gibbs and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet than the originals’ overly abundant arrangements— inclusive of voices. Tyner’s style has influenced one way or the other most of, if not all, the pianists that followed but his pearly touch remains inimitable. Gonzalez is no exception. From the attack of the pedal and theme of “Fly with the Wind” his performance suffers from the excess of respect mentioned at the outset, somewhat restrained compared to his earlier solo efforts, critical contributions to the Azar Lawrence Quartet and his live performances.

“Blues on the Corner” is a case in point if one compares the rather subdued version presented here with the sparkling energy of Tyner’s original version. With the notable exception of “The Greeting”, the other interpretations also lack the spirituality of most of Tyner’s music, as illustrated by the version of “Atlantis”. Although quite different from Tyner’s many interpretations of “Naima”—the one from the album Echoes of a Friend still stands out—Gonzalez’ solo treatment frees him of any timidity, thus giving us a wonderful version. The occasional addition of instruments, ranging from the harp in the introduction of “Festival in Bahia” to mallets and keyboards in the trio’s original compositions (one each from the principals), broadens the palette but takes the whole mood farther away from Tyner’s spirit. Gibbs is tasteful and creative as always—listen how he underlines the bass walk in “Blues on the Corner”—while Essiet provides a solid anchor throughout the proceedings.

This album is a thoughtful, loving yet excessively respectful tribute to a living giant, in which reverence seems to take the lead over passion and transcendence.