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Larry Coryell: Cedars of Avalon

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Spanning more genres than most of the guitarists his age, Larry Coryell was there when fusion was making its first appearance. Although largely unacknowledged, Gary Burton’s early RCA sides found Coryell playing with an edgy rock-inflected tone that was just as responsible for a new era in jazz as such commonly cited fusion classics like Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. The guitarist’s own Eleventh House band would also challenge John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, with the latter getting much of the press at the time. However, most recently its been a mainstream stance which has marked Coryell’s appearance on Joe Fields’ HighNote label, the best of these being the newly issued Cedars of Avalon.

Recorded in full 24-bit splendor by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder, the first thing you’ll notice about this latest offering from Coryell is an almost tube-like warmness to the sound that is the antithesis of modern digital technology. Coryell’s guitar is presented in burnished tones that blend ever so splendidly with pianist Cedar Walton’s crystalline middle and upper registers. Buster Williams’ bass has just enough bottom edge presence to buoy the entire ensemble, but without being a bit muddy. It’s only drummer Billy Drummond who seems to be a bit low in the mix, but that’s only in comparison to his Criss Cross appearances where he’s given such a forward presentation.

With a sagacious tune selection, Coryell brings the tempos up and down in similar fashion to building a good live set. His title track and opening homage to Cedar Walton has a nice lilting feel to it and everyone seems to be equally comfortable in navigating its tricky turns. Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” kicks in with a crafty opening vamp, later to be distinguished by Coryell’s use of octaves, the Montgomery inspiration evident again in a rendition of Wes’ “D Natural Blues.” Walton’s own “Fantasy in D” reminds us of the pianist’s value as a composer and “Theme For Ernie” (mistakenly listed as “Ermie” on both the back cover and disc) gives Coryell room to stretch out at a ballad tempo.

Two tracks, “Limehouse Blues” and “Shapes,” find Coryell over-dubbing acoustic guitars and Van Gelder’s artfully etched sound works wonders for these mini masterpieces. Two more standards and Walton’s “Newest Blues” round out this most enjoyable mainstream set that might surprise some Coryell fanatics but which will easily please all.

Track Listing: Cedars Of Avalon, Bemsha Swing, Fantasy In D, Blues For Ernie, Limehouse Blues, D-Natural Blues, What's New, Newest Blues, It Could Happen To You, Shapes

Personnel: Larry Coyell (guitar), Cedar Walton (piano), Buster Williams (bass), Billy Drummond (drums)

Title: Cedars of Avalon | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Unknown label

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