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Larry Coryell: Less Rock, More Jazz

Todd S. Jenkins By

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AAJ: By not going up into the rafters all the time he makes it sound like it's almost a part of him, it's such a natural flow.

LC: And that's what you want.

AAJ: I'd like to think that this album open some doors for him, because he's one of the best soprano players we've heard in ages but he doesn't seem to get that many recording opportunities.

LC: Actually, he works all the time. I spoke to him last night. He's working like crazy, he's going to Europe. But the quality of his work definitely deserves more attention. And if the right things happen as a result of this release, then what you just said you'd like to see vis-à-vis Steve's estimation in the musical community, I think it will happen.

AAJ: Is there any chance that the two of you would consider going on tour with a different rhythm section?

LC: There's always that chance. In jazz today, there's always the possibility of any combination taking place. And that's definitely something that could take place. But ideally, the best thing to do would be to play with this quartet. Everybody knows the music. Learning the music was very difficult in a lot of situations. Actually, I also liked the pianist.

AAJ: Right. Jeff Chimenti has done some pretty strange gigs: Bob Weir's Ratdog, and the bizarro rock he does with Les Claypool's Flying Frog Brigade. Wild jam-rock stuff. To see him on a release like this was a refreshing surprise. I didn't expect what I heard.

LC: I don't know his other work. I just know him as a bebop guy who plays his tail off. I'd like to hear it eventually. Versatility, especially for young guys coming up, is something you need to have.

AAJ: He certainly has that. I think that Jeff rounds out the four tracks he's on just beautifully. He doesn't sound like a fifth wheel, so to speak.

LC: Not at all. I mean, he really got into it, even when he was playing supporting parts. His solo on "Rhapsody in Blues," there's one moment where he and Steve really get into it in the way that I really like to see interplay happen. There's not only interplay on here between the guitar and saxophone, even though we're the front line, there's interplay with everybody. It's a basic thing that I've always been taught about how to listen when you play and play when you listen.

AAJ: This album, especially, seems to exemplify that. The "Ballad for Guitar and Soprano" is some of the most beautifully lyrical work you've done in years. The sense of interplay between you two there, after almost three decades apart, is incredible. You've both got big ears and you react so intuitively.

LC: Can I tell you what's up with that? I gave that a little thought. We're both approximately the same age, our training is in jazz, we both were very aware of the pop and rock music that was going on in the late 60s and the fact that it had some value to it. Because we both had a lot of youthful energy and a lot of imagination, we found it easy to play as a front line. We could kind of anticipate each other's phrasing. A lot of the vocabulary he had, if I didn't exactly have it in my lexicon, I had something that either related to it or complemented it. In other words, we liked to come out of the jazz tradition, the vocabulary and foundation of what's known for better or worse as jazz, and improvisation.

A lot of this stuff, because we both admired Coltrane, we were doing some of the newer, current ideas that were coming out of the Coltrane-type school in the late 60s. Taking small groups of notes and extrapolating and repeating them, we both had a tendency to do that before we even knew each other. So when we came together as a front line, there were so many important things in common from a mechanical standpoint as well as a conceptual standpoint, that all you had to add was the fact that we're two kindred spirits. That's why that rapport is there, no matter how big the gap of time between playing events. It's always there. It's like Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. They could be apart for ten years, come back and be right there again.

AAJ: It's like they never left.

LC: Or Gary Burton and Chick Corea, or Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody. Or Jim Hall and Bill Evans. Those kinds of things in jazz, in addition to being attracted to the great virtuosity that individuals in jazz had, those kinds of teamwork things I find very attractive. It's what makes the music interesting. Almost a spiritual-scientific type thing.

AAJ: Obviously, a lot of people think that the fusion movement began with Miles, but you were doing jazz-rock-oriented things for years before Miles got around to Bitches Brew. How long after you got to New York was it before you hooked up with the Free Spirits?

LC: I'd say about a year.

AAJ: That's a group that hardly anyone remembers now, or has even heard of. In fact, I'd honestly forgotten about the Free Spirits until I watched a documentary on Jim Pepper. Bob Moses was talking about that whole experience.

LC: Bob is very eloquent, and I'm sure he remembers a lot more than I do. We were just trying to be different. We didn't just want to emulate our jazz heroes; we felt that was not correct. In my case, I was so young and so untrained I really needed to learn more about jazz when I got to New York. But in order to work I had to come forward with some fresh ideas, so I just gravitated naturally to mixing styles.

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