Back in 1984 I purchased my first McCoy Tyner album, Dimensions, which was his current release at the time. Though I didn’t fully realize it then, this was a little bit of an unusual line-up for him. John Blake’s violin was a little out of character for a Tyner record although Blake appeared on a couple of other of his albums before this one. Sticking out more than that was John Lee’s bass because it was an electric bass, not an acoustic one, and Tyner typically keeps everything all-acoustic. But Lee’s bass gave the music a little more “oomph” and he worked the rhythm section well with the late drummer Wilby Fletcher (former Miles Davis sideman Gary Bartz completed this quintet on sax).
My favorite song on that album, one I still revisit from time to time to this day, is an original called “Understanding.” And it was Lee, not Tyner, who wrote that song.
Still, I always thought of “Understanding” as a song that stood out to me and really nobody else. After all, Dimensions didn’t go down as one of Tyner’s better known records, and the track itself was buried in the middle of Side 2. So, when I was checking out this upcoming CD by drummer Andrew Swift I nearly fell out my chair when the introductory chords of “Understanding” started playing on the very last track of this CD, Swift Kick. There is no mistaking that grand sounding entrance.
Which version is better? I’m always going to be partial to the original and Lee’s bass sparkles more on it, but there’s some cool things going on in the new version, thanks to a nifty arrangement by Swift, producer Michael Dease and Thomas Barber.
Yes, the song is played much the same way, following Lee’s alternately funky and elegant melody parts just as it’s played on the Tyner recording. The departures come how the bands performing each rendition are set up: Tyner with his quintet and Swift with … well, what do you call ten players? A great collection of players, too, including Swift, Dease, Sharel Cassity on soprano sax, George Cables on piano, Tim Meyer on flute, Jeb Patton on rhodes, Curtis Stewart on violin and Matt Garrison on baritone sax. And, Lee himself reprising his role on electric bass. Cassity and Patton get in good solos but Dease’s electric trombone solo is the high point of the song, partly because an electrified trombone is such a rare sound and partly because Dease is playing is on fire.
We always like it when someone agrees with us. I’m glad that Andrew Swift found this hidden gem of a song called “Understanding” very attractive, too.
Swift Kick releases on April 17, by D Clef Records. Visit Andrew Swift’s website.