The last time Savion Glover appeared in Buffalo, in 2008, he had the jazz pianist McCoy Tyner in tow. But you could have been forgiven for thinking it was the other way around.
The duo held a riveting musical conversation that ranged from spirited outbursts of soul-piercing intensity to call-and-response whispers of quiet grace. This was surprising, given Glover's reputation for me-first percussive pyrotechnics and for what some claim is his unsophisticated musicianship. He brought the noise and he brought the funk, yes, but he also brought some serious nuance.
But when Glover came back Thursday night, for a performance of his new flamenco-inspired show "Solo in Time" in the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts, Tyner was nowhere in sight. And Glover, for all intents and purposes and despite the presence of a flamenco band and fellow tapper Marshall Davis Jr., had the spotlight back to himself.
It is impossible, no matter where you think Glover ranks among the jazz percussionists and musicians he so clearly reveres, not to be awed by the man's unequaled command of his art form. Since all the cliches about burning floors and lightning speed and have been liberally applied, let's just say that Glover has more talent in his left pinkie toe than the entire Rockettes kick-line.
Glover began the evening, as is his custom, with an extended, unaccompanied reverie that summed up his tap style, which could be described as shock-and-awe. After that, he launched into a series of improvisational pieces backed by the band Flamenkina that showed off his formidable skills. If he was having a conversation with the other musicians onstage, it was usually pretty one-sided.
Flamenco is an alternately sad and defiant music, redolent of a pain that resides somewhere deep in the Andalusian psyche. Glover's style of hyper-virtuosic tap, conversely, seems like the embodiment of a peculiarly American brand of optimism, something quite apart from flamenco, and even from the jazz and blues it inspired. Though it has its rhythmic complexities, it never fails to remind audiences of its virtuosity. And that can lead to a loss of interest after a spell.
Throughout the performance, those divergent styles sometimes struggled to meet each other halfway, and at the rare moments they did, something beautiful happened.
The best moments throughout the night came in spirited duets with Davis, and when, on some of the quieter flamenco pieces, Glover added elegant sweeps or other sounds to his tapping, that added a layer of complexity to the affair.
It's never been clearer that Glover is the best tap-dancer of his time, and probably of all time. But you can almost hear his idol John Coltrane, who got over virtuosity around 1960 and then went somewhere sublime, urging this tapping phenomenon to do the same.