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Larry Coryell with Joey DeFrancesco at the Iridium

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Larry Coryell Organ Trio
With Joey DeFrancesco and Byron Landham
The Iridium
New York, New York

March 26, 2009

The atmosphere was surprisingly quiet in advance of the early set at the reliably raucous Iridium on a rainy Thursday night. The excitement was palpable. I didn't fully understand—we were just going to hear a straight-ahead organ trio, one of the most predictable ensembles in jazz. It scarcely occurred to this writer that the crowd was here to be transported, if only for a moment, back to 1966—a time when the organ trio was still new and largely unexplored by the broader public unfamiliar with tiny Blue Note records. But Jimmy Smith had parted ways with Alfred Lion at Blue Note, and he and Wes Montgomery were about to alert the whole world to the explosive potential of the combination of B3 and guitar on Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo (Verve, 1966).

The time machine on this evening in 2009 came in the form of a trio that included Larry Coryell (guitar), Joey DeFrancesco (organ) and Byron Landham (drums). No, these incendiary musicians were not here to recreate history. They were here to create the future with an eye towards the past.

Although all three members are high-profile jazz masters, from the first note it was apparent that this band would not rest on its laurels. The first tune was a hard-driving rendition of "Fly Me To The Moon." Coryell's hollow-body guitar and smooth tone gave the music a retro feel which belied a neo-bop sensibility. During his solo turn, Coryell played outside the changes, and DeFrancesco was quick to follow with a harmonic as well as rhythmic sensibility learned from Smith, the primary mentor of virtually every B3 player, not excluding DeFrancesco. Landham, as he would throughout the night, kept the music firmly anchored with his understated but rock-solid backbeat. DeFrancesco, during his turn, immediately upped the intensity with his lightning-fast runs.

John Coltrane's "Impressions" came next, with Coryell paying tribute to Wes Montgomery, followed by a rendition of Bill Evans' "Very Early." Here, DeFrancesco tastefully slowed down his playing, spontaneously creating a new vocabulary through his organ. The crowd seemed to grasp the enormity of the statement, receiving it in utter silence until the close of the organist's solo break.

The rest of the set included a playful take on the Harry "Sweets" Edison tune "Centerpiece," a gorgeous reading of Gershwin's "Embraceable You" and a straight blues rave-up, complete with a superb extended coda played by Coryell unaccompanied. The chemistry between the band members was so telepathic it was easy to forget that they had played together for the first time a month earlier. The audience was appreciative enough that Coryell emerged to play an acoustic encore version of Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here To Stay," which he dedicated to his wife.

This was jazz at its finest—complex and virtuosic yet easily accessible, at times intense, at others fun-filled, and always with the feeling of the unknown that comes with truly spontaneous and inspired improvisation. While the music was steeped in the bop tradition, the musicians continually found new ways to utilize the idiom. Few locations other than New York could host a powerhouse gathering of musical heavyweights of this order, and one can only hope that the shows have been recorded for a future release.

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