Larry Coryell - guitar; Steve Marcus - soprano saxophone; Mike Mandel - electric piano; Kyle Teller - bass; Harry Wilkinson - drums
Called "the godfather of fusion" by no less an authority than '70s guitar hero Al Di Meola, Larry Coryell was one of the first jazz guitarists to turn on to the power of rock and tap into the sonic possibilities presented by Jimi Hendrix in the late '60s. Originally a Wes Montgomery-obsessed guitarist from Texas, Coryell apprenticed with Chico Hamilton's forward-looking jazz group in 1965 and broke new ground in 1967 and 1968 with Gary Burton's quartet. By 1971, he switched from a fat-bodied Gibson Super 400 guitar to a solid body electric guitar, equipped with a huge amplifier and all the effects pedals of the day. While his 1969 recording Lady Coryell (with John Coltrane's former rhythm tandem of bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones) still solidly aligned with the jazz camp, his 1971 Hendrix-inspired, decibel-heavy, distortion-laden offering Live at the Village Gate was his attempt to bridge the jazz and rock worlds with his pyrotechnic fretboard skills. 1972's Offering and 1973's The Real Great Escape both feature his working band Foreplay, with bassist Mervin Bronson, drummer Wilkinson, keyboardist Mike Mandel, and saxophonist Steve Marcus. They show the promise of what outstanding jazz-rock could be back in a time before the term 'fusion' was even used by either musicians or critics.
For this afternoon performance in Central Park, Coryell and Foreplay turned in a volatile set that shook the bleachers at the Wollman Ampitheater. They come out of the gate charging with adrenalized momentum on Coryell's uptempo burner "Foreplay" from Offering. Marcus's searing soprano sax is prominent on this intense opener and Coryell follows his solo with a rocking wah-wah-inflected solo of his own. Coryell plays a haunting solo intro to "Low-Lee-Tah," a number from 1972's Introducing the Eleventh House, before Marcus enters on soprano to engage the guitarist in a spirited duet highlighted by some intricate call-and-response action. Mandel's buoyant "Joy Ride" is a showcase for some funky playing by the electric pianist as well as some blues-inflected Mini-Moog soloing. Coryell digs into this vehicle with blues-rock abandon, summoning up some of his Texas roots and channeling that earthy energy through a wah-wah pedal. They close their set on an exhilarating note with the frantic fusion anthem "Scotland," which throbs with Zeppelinesque bombast while bristling with raw, ripping abandon in the fleet-fingered solo exchanges between Marcus and Coryell. Along with the Mahavishnu Orchestra (Return to Forever had not yet recorded its first electric album, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy, which they cut at the Record Plant in August, 1973), this energized group of virtuosos represents the height of fusion for its time.
Born in Galveston, Texas, on April 2, 1943, Coryell moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington before coming to New York in 1965, and joining Chico Hamilton's band, replacing Gabor Szabo in the group. Around the same time he began experimenting with the fusing of rock and jazz in an adventurous group of like-minded young musicians known as the Free Spirits. Coryell made some classic recordings with Gary Burton's group (Duster, Genuine Tong Funeral) before embarking on a solo career with 1969's Lady Coryell. In 1972, Coryell juggled two fusion bands with overlapping personnel: Fourplay, which recorded Offering that year, and the Eleventh House, which debuted the same year with Introducing the Eleventh House. He maintained both bands, following up in 1973 with Foreplay's The Real Great Escape and in 1974 with the Eleventh House's Live at Montreux. By 1975, fatigued by the onslaught of electronics, Coryell immersed himself in acoustic guitar music on such recordings as 1976's Twin House (duets with fellow guitarist Philip Catherine), 1977's The Lion and the Ram, 1977's Two for the Road (with guitarist Steve Khan), and 1978's Tributaries (with Joe Beck and John Scofield).
In the early '80s, he undertook challenging classical recording on acoustic guitar, including Ravel's "Bolero" and Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite." He returned to his jazz roots on a series of swinging, straight ahead projects for the Muse label through the '80s, including 1984's Coming Home, 1985's Equipoise, 1987's Toku Do, and 1989's Shining Hour. He later summoned up his fusion bombast from the past on volatile outings like 1998's Cause and Effect (with drummer Steve Smith, keyboardist Tom Coster, and bassist Victor Wooten) and 2002's Count's Jam Band Reunion (with his former Foreplay colleague Steve Marcus). In recent years, Coryell united in a formidable power trio with former Weather Report bassist Victor Bailey and Return To Forever drummer Lenny White on 2005's Electric and 2006's Traffic. And on 2009's Earthquake at the Avalon, he reprised material from The Real Great Escape, sounding as inspired and hot-wired at age 66 as he did at age 30 back in 1973. (Milkowski)