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Larry Coryell: Less Rock, More Jazz

Todd S. Jenkins By

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AAJ: I think the variety of music you've personally done over the past thirty-odd years benefits this album greatly. You can get into that chordal approach on something like "Rhapsody" that gives it a much jazzier feel than the flat-out electric fusion that's heard on some of the other tunes. I think that it rounds everything out well. A lot of your jazz-rock fans aren't even aware that you recorded with Mingus and Stephane Grappelli and Sonny Rollins at various points in time.

LC: You know, in a funny way, especially if you listen to "Rhapsody in Blues," people who know me from Rollins and Mingus and Stephane Grappelli can find a connection there. And Steve Marcus takes some great choruses on that. I think it's the longest track on the CD and yet, at least when I listen to it... I've listened to it maybe three times... it wasn't tedious, it wasn't overly long, and I actually enjoyed one piece where the band stretched out as if they were onstage.

AAJ: I think one particular hallmark of this album is that it could well have gotten bogged down into a bunch of repetition, but everything continues to flow and sound fresh throughout the entire disc.

LC: Well, you have to give credit to Steve Smith. You wouldn't know it unless you were told by an insider, but he was constantly monitoring each piece on a vertical level, to make sure that each piece was consistent with itself, but also on a horizontal level to make sure that each piece related to the other ones correctly. I could see him always being conscious about that.

AAJ: I spoke with Mike Varney, the label head, a few weeks ago and he mentioned exactly that. Steve Smith is so detail-oriented and so concentrated on making sure that everything flows evenly and comes into a nice, coherent whole.

LC: Well, you know, he's a drummer. They spend most of their lives on the drum set listening to the other musicians in order to respond to the music correctly.

AAJ: Tell me about "Blues for Yoshiro Hattori."

LC: Yoshihiro Hattori was a Japanese exchange student who had moved or been sent to Louisiana a few years ago. He was accidentally murdered by some resident down there when he went to the wrong house wearing a Halloween costume.

I was made aware of it by a friend of mine who happens to be Japanese, who had read a story about that incident by New York journalist Pete Hamilton. My friend and I both practice a kind of Buddhism in which the primary practice is chanting a mantra called "Nam Yomo Renge Kyo," and we chanted about it. In that article Pete Hamilton said that somebody should write a slow blues for Yoshihiro Hattori, so I took a slow blues, like a 12/8, almost down-home B.B. King slow blues, and I decided to put some other things in there. A lot more involved harmony and lead lines to express the complexity of the emotions that I felt about the whole thing.

AAJ: The beat of that particular tune is definitely a sort of waltz feel. It's got that nice, complex flow to the head. Another one of the more unusual tracks is "Tomorrow Never Knows." There's a lot of drones, buzzsaws and dissonance going on in there. It's quite different from anything else on the album. I think that one is especially fascinating.

LC: We had some huge discussions about that, they went on for days about whether or not to do that. During the course of making a record like this there's always heated discussions about material. I think it came down to a situation where it was late in the week (we did the whole thing in a week), and Steve Smith said to Marcus, "Okay, we'll record that in one take in the morning and get it out of the way," something like that. But the whole time Steve Marcus was under the impression that we were going to do another take. His playing on that track was basically with the assumption that we would do another take, so he was playing with unbelievable relaxation and abandon. And that solo on the new version is totally different from the original solo on the original "Tomorrow Never Knows" from 1960-something. It's just one of the unexpected benefits of improvised music and the chemistry of musicians with that kind of imagination and experience.

AAJ: I think it's a shame that Steve Marcus still today isn't very well-known. His soprano playing throughout this album is so consistently tasteful on a horn that's been subjected to a whole lot of crap over the past twenty or thirty years.

LC: I couldn't agree more with that statement. I don't want to mention any names, but there are some soprano players who have such a terrible sound, while their ideas are good, it just wears on the mind.

AAJ: Some of them don't even know how to keep the thing in tune. It is one of the most difficult horns to keep in tune consistently.

LC: It must be. Sometimes it sounds like an agony pipe. And Marcus' sound on the soprano has actually changed since our early days. There's less high end to his sound, and I like the more mellow, almost Stan Getz-like tone he gets, especially in the more tender sections of the music where he's not blowing very hard.

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