Why guitarist Larry Coryell isn’t a bigger name is a mystery. Emerging in the ‘60s around the same time as John McLaughlin, Coryell’s forays into fusion actually predate McLaughlin’s, first fusing jazz with rock and country sensibilities in Gary Burton’s quartet, most notably on ‘67’s Duster and Lofty Fake Anagram. McLaughlin and Coryell even duked it out on Coryell’s Spaces , considered by many to be a classic fusion record. But Coryell’s career has strangely existed just below the radar, enough of a name to develop a rich body of recorded work, but never quite able to make the leap into broader exposure.
Maybe it’s because at the heart of things Coryell is really a jazzer. As eclectic as he can get, his roots are never far from the forefront. He has a clean but edgy approach that suits a broad range of styles, but harmonically and rhythmically it owes more to the tradition. And while he has straddled the fence on a variety of contexts over the years, there is no doubt on Tricycles , his latest release, where he’d fall if he lost his balance.
Accompanying Coryell are bassist Marc Egan and drummer Paul Wertico, both alumni, from different periods, of the Pat Metheny Group. Some artists are born to be leaders, others are best heard in support of others. While both Wertico and Egan have forged modestly successful careers as leaders, they are inconsistent at best—but in support of Coryell, who has a more focused conception, they clearly shine. Wertico demonstrates a sheer sense of power that he never had the chance to show with Metheny. His solo on “Spaces Revisited” gives Billy Cobham, who played on the original ’97 recording of the same name, a real run for his money. And Egan contributes some of his loosest playing in years, witness the group improvisation, “Three Way Split,” where he manages to emerge from a free-style intro into a fast swing with Wertico that gives Coryell all the room he needs.
In a programme that liberally mixes Monk standards with Coryell originals past and present, Coryell demonstrates a biting and compellingly distinctive style. On “Good Citizen Swallow,” originally from Burton’s Lofty Fake Anagram , he plays with a slight country flavour; on the blues-based “Immer Geredeaus” Coryell combines his roots in Wes Montgomery with a more angular approach. “Spaces Revisited” and “Dragon Gate” were originally recorded as quartet pieces, but both benefit from the more harmonic freedom of the trio setting. “Stable Fantasy,” another new composition, blurs the bar line, and features a lyrical melody from Egan.
Tricycles may not do anything to bring Coryell to the broader audience he deserves, but it should. With a personal style that is clearly as identifiable in its combination of energy and elegance, concept and commitment, as those of his more popular contemporaries, Coryell belongs in the spotlight that has eluded him for nearly forty years.
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