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Tyner's distinctive playing shines on

By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | December 30, 2005

CAMBRIDGE -- McCoy Tyner is starting to seem like the jazz world's answer to Bob Dylan. Beyond the superficial similarities -- both rose to fame in the early '60s (Tyner as a member of John Coltrane's famous quartet), and both have taken to sporting retro-looking pencil-thin mustaches in recent years -- there's the more significant matter of their relentless touring at ages (Dylan 64, Tyner 67) when most artists of their stature are expected to be slowing down. It's as if both men are obsessed with squeezing as much music as possible into whatever time they have left.

Tyner's first set at Regattabar on Wednesday began his third stop in Boston or Cambridge this year, and there were others late last year and at Newport both summers. This time he was performing with a trio.

On bass was Charnett Moffett, who provided his usual strong support and spelled Tyner with inventive solos, like a slightly toned-down version of Stanley Clarke's pyrotechnics. On drums was Al Foster, new to this unit but a gifted and much-in-demand sideman who's worked with Tyner in the past. (''We've been friends a long time, right, Al?" said Tyner in introducing him.)

But people come to Tyner sets to see Tyner. The pianist is looking a lot thinner these days, and his dark pinstripe suit hung loose on him as he walked slowly to the stage and took his seat at the house Steinway. He was reportedly hospitalized for exhaustion in Italy earlier this year. But when he launched into his tune ''Mellow Minor" to start the set, his playing was strong, supple, and sure.

Tyner's distinctive approach to the piano is as familiar to jazz buffs as Dylan's signature rasp is to fans of rock and folk. But he's become less emphatic with his left hand lately, bringing a new softness to his playing that seems to be reaching back to jazz's earlier, pre-Coltrane days.

That was so as the trio made its way through ''Ballad for Aisha" and the standard ''Will You Still Be Mine?" (featuring a drum solo by Foster), and as Tyner took over for a solo interpretation of ''Darn That Dream."

Tyner's left hand reasserted itself on ''Manalyuca," one of his most recognizable compositions, but like Dylan, Tyner thoroughly recast his piece once its theme had been stated and it was time to solo.

A standing ovation produced an encore. Like Dylan again, Tyner dug deep into his music's history and offered up a stride-inflected version of ''St. Louis Blues" as pretty and bluesy as jazz gets.

©Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company