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Desert Beauty

05 MAR 12 JOHN C. BRUENING

McCoy Tyner's Sahara -- released on Milestone in 1972 -- marks the moment when the pianist stepped out from under the shadow of his former employer, John Coltrane (who'd died five years earlier), and clearly established his persona as a frontman and composer.

The remainder of his quartet consists of saxophonist Sonny Fortune, bassist Calvin Hill and drummer/percussionist Alphonse Mouzon -- a stellar unit that's present for four of the album's five tracks.

Simply put, this is one of the finest recordings of Tyner's entire career and for good reason. The first half consists of relatively short but diverse bursts like the urgent and intense "Ebony Queen," the lush and atmospheric solo piano piece, "A Prayer for My Family," and the exotic "Valley of Life" (featuring a koto track put down by Tyner). And yet, for as inspired and engaging as these individual tracks are, they're all a prelude to the 23-minute title track. The full second side of the album, in which Tyner demonstrates a mesmerizing range and a palette that are further supplemented by stirring moments percussion and flute (the latter courtesy of Fortune).

Sahara is considered by many to be not only a masterpiece within Tyner's own canon, but also one of the greatest jazz recordings of the 1970s. Hear it on its original medium and hear all of the brilliance of jazz in a mere five songs.