Guitarist Larry Coryell
is unquestionably one of the pioneers of jazz/rock fusion, incorporating rock elements as early as the mid-1960s with the group Free Spirits
, and later with vibraphonist Gary Burton
. He never attained the recognition of many who followed, but the Eleventh House
was an attempt to attract the same audience as groups like John McLaughlin
's Mahavishnu Orchestra
, Weather Report
, and Chick Corea
's Return to Forever
. The Eleventh House that played Bremen in 1975 was the same group that had recorded the group's second studio album Level One
(Arista, 1975), with trumpeter Mike Lawrence
replacing Randy Brecker
and bassist John Lee
replacing Danny Trifan. Original members keyboardist Mike Mandel and drummer Alphonse Mouzon
(as well as Coryell himself) were still on board.
The set includes five tunes from Introducing the Eleventh House
(Vanguard, 1974), three from Level One
, a single track from Coryell's album The Restful Mind
(Vanguard, 1975), and three that were previously unrecorded. Two of them later turned up on the live album At Montreux
(Vanguard, 1978). The band comes charging in with the high energy "Bird Fingers," but then takes a surprising mellow turn. Mike Mandel's ballad "Diedra" is followed by "Gratitude "A So Low,"" the first of two Coryell solo performances (as well as the first of the punning song titles).
"Low Lee Tah" continues with Coryell alone, but the band kicks back in before long. Alphonse Mouzon's "Funky Waltz" bears a very strong resemblance to Weather Report's "Boogie Woogie Waltz." Mouzon had left Weather Report long before they recorded it, so maybe it's a coincidenceand it is indeed a funky waltz. Coryell plays "Julie La Belle" (from The Restful Mind
) unaccompanied, throwing in a quote from "Scotland I," originally recorded on the proto-Eleventh House album Offering
Keyboardist Mike Mandel also gets a solo spot for his tune "Untitled Thoughts." Then the whole group jumps into "Adam Smasher," and they absolutely rock out
. Of all the fusion guitarists of this era, Coryell is the one with the strongest flavor of pure American rock and roll guitar in his playing, when he wants it. This tune also encapsulates the difference between these live versions and the studio originals. They're only slightly longer, for the most partso the musicians aren't stretching out significantlybut the energy level is ramped way up.
There's a wonderful quote in the CD booklet from an audience member, just as the second song was starting: "You have to play even louder." This was a band that loved to do the stereotypical loud and fast fusion thing, but even in this outdoor concert setting they weren't afraid to mix it up. They were also more of a collective than the other leading fusion groups, with compositional input from most of the members.
They were a group that deserved wider recognitionas does Larry Coryell himselfand this live recording makes a strong case. If you were there, it's a fine souvenir. If you weren't, it's a potent reminder of how vibrant early fusion could be, before it became overwhelmed by cliche and excess.