Bireli Lagrene w/Larry Coryell & Miroslav Vitous: Special Guests


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Bireli Lagrene w/Larry Coryell & Miroslav Vitous: Special Guests
“Are you ready?” Bireli Lagrene shouts with excitement. “Yeah...I am,” says Larry Coryell; he sounds testy but all is forgotten as we dive in a bed of strings. The crowd is still: the two strum mightily and then Bireli starts the theme, a Coryell line with a bit of flamenco. Notes wiggle and twist, with a metallic bite. Coryell adds a muscular rhythm part; loud broad strokes Bireli fights to play above. Larry’s turn sparkles: a frantic 12-string with airy notes, trilling to ecstasy. He chords, drops a little blues, and simply glows from the fire he starts. The exchanges are wonderful, with Coryell stepping it up every time, and Bireli fighting hard to stay even. The theme returns, and the applause is what you’d expect.

Lagrene was in transition when this was recorded. Two months before he toured Europe with Jaco Pastorius, and became infatuated with Van Halen. On the tour he mostly played rock; his clean jazz style was nearly absent. We get some of the old style on this date, but there’s also a hard tone, a snap to the strings, and the slightest hint of distortion. It’s a more aggressive sound, and Coryell responds to the challenge, “Berga” is Bireli’s tribute to his mother; Jaco attempted it for Stuttgart Aria, but it got left off the album. Here it’s faster; Coryell and Miroslav Vitous are warm as Bireli skitters the tender theme. Coryell’s rhythm part tops his solo, and Lagrene goes crazy, his best moment on the album. Check out Vitous: always in the thick of things, and here he sounds like a third guitar. Coryell takes it faster at the end, and it swirls to a beautiful finish.

A jangly opening meanders, and in time becomes “All the Things You Are.” Bireli gets rockish with stinging notes and bouncy echo (a little too much, if you ask me.) Coryell is calm: clean notes with a little snap. Bireli urges with heavy rhythm, and Coryell gets faster, while keeping the gentility. Both sides work together: Lagrene’s second solo is sweeter, and Larry’s more active. It fades in a fog of tiny notes, and the crowd says their piece.

This is Bireli’s show; the closest thing to a Coryell feature is “Albi”. After theme and Lagrene’s solom Larry sets down a sunny breeze, with the rhythm part lighter than normal. It’s warmer than the other tracks, with his second turn lighter still: a more metallic Kenny Burrell. Vitous’ spot is a little weak: choppy in parts, it seems more concerned with speed than melody. There’s a spot for Bireli: it’s similar to his live features with Jaco, minus the distortion. It’s little more than noodling, but parts are nice, including a bit where he sounds like a harpsichord. Applause comes and goes, and now we get to the good stuff.

The homestretch is especially powerful. “Wave” gives Bireli a rounder tone, and his Van Halen lick works in this context. Coryell varies little phrases, and splashes big notes, a tone like Bireli’s. He gets an echo, with a chicken scratch and soft-focus notes. Bireli responds with his gentlest solo, and they go out pretty together. Scott LaFaro’s “Gloria’s Step” is a feature for Vitous, with Larry adding shimmers. (The two made an Evans/LaFaro tribute for Jazzpoint, so this is a natural.) Vitous is fast and woody, and Coryell’s 12-string is a crowning touch.

The applause still rings as Vitous takes the bow. A classical intro gains gentle strums, and Miroslav bows “All Blues”. It’s sadder than normal, emphasized by some high squeaks. Bireli sounds restrained; he keeps to the mood and spins his own blues. Coryell chords thickly, with muffled tone; it’s hard to hear as the rhythm grows stronger. Vitous’ solo is grainy, a mournful bow against the breeze. And the breeze grows: a vigorous bow near the end is a thrill. It’s a joy, like the tune. And like most of the album.


Bireli Lagrene: guitar.

Album information

Title: Special Guests | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Jazzpoint Records

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