Guitarist Larry Coryell and saxophonist Steve Marcus helped begin the exploration of the boundary between jazz and rock in the late 60s with the early fusion group Count's Rock Band. They recorded several records and then split up, all before 1969. Coryell went on to lead his own fusion band Eleventh House, while Marcus became the featured sax soloist in the Buddy Rich Big Band. After a chance meeting at a concert in 1999, Coryell and Marcus decided to reunite as the founding members of Count's. Joined by drummer Steve Smith, with whom each had played recently on separate Tone Center label fusion projects, and bassist Kai Eckhardt, who had played with Smith in Vital Information, Coryell and Marcus recorded Count's Jam Band Reunion.
Count's Jam Band Reunion swells with a spontaneous, alive groove under soaring guitar and soprano sax melodies. Coryell's songwriting, as the sole writer behind almost all of the tunes, bounds with clever grooves in odd meters that feel completely natural in the skilled hands of Smith and Eckhardt. The songs range from classic fusion styles, like the 17:8 time groove of "Scotland," to the more traditional electric jazz sound of "Rhapsody & Blues," Coryell's variation on the Gershwin classic "Rhapsody in Blue." The acoustic guitar and sax duet "Pedals and Suspensions" breathes a mellow contrast between the frantic fusion numbers like "Scotland" and "Reunion."
Coryell moves flawlessly from clean jazz chords to wailing fusion leads, matched in ferocity by Marcus' sax. Eckhardt's bass, and writing, provide a solid foundation, with his fretless growl in places recalling moments on Gary Willis' solo records. Smith's tasteful and precise drumming frames the whole sound while letting Coryell and Marcus take the forefront. Pianist Jeff Chimenti adds a more classic jazz timbre and considerable sonic depth on four tracks, a clever arrangement idea with only one rhythm chording instrument, Coryell's guitar, in the band.
Coryell and Marcus may have set out just to have fun playing music reminiscent of their 60s band on Count's Jam Band Reunion, but they end up also capturing an energetic and unprompted vibe in catchy but clever fusion songwriting. Count's Jam Band Reunion stands as a great modern fusion record on its own, irrespective of the history of the musicians and their music.
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