Larry Coryell - guitar; Philip Catherine - guitar
After blazing the fusion trail in the '60s with The Free Spirits and Gary Burton's groundbreaking quartet and during the early '70s with his electrifying bands Eleventh House and Foreplay, pioneering guitarist Larry Coryell turned to the purity of acoustic guitar by the end of the decade, if only to give his ears a rest. His first acoustic project was Twin House, a 1976 duet encounter with the great guitarist from Brussels, Belgium, Philip Catherine. They followed up in 1978 with Splendid. The two six-string wizards culled from both of those superb studio outings for their appearance together at the 1978 Newport Jazz Festival.
Sparks fly on the fleet-fingered opener, Coryell's "Ms. Julie" (named for his wife). Both guitarists come charging hard out of the gate with tight, furious unisons, running up and down the necks of their respective instruments in aggressive scalar fashion. The relaxed, half-time middle section gives each an opportunity to stretch out with some revealing, virtuosic solos. Coryell showcases his love of Wes Montgomery with some slick octave work here while also layering on some bell-like false harmonics (an extended six-string technique associated with the great and influential guitarist Lenny Breau). The restful "A Quiet Day in Spring," written by Julie Coryell, is a gentle, lyrical offering that provides a cleansing breath between all the fusillades by these two burners. On "Father Christmas," Catherine switches to fretless electric bass for a melodious, Jaco Pastorius-styled tribute to the great bassist-composer Charles Mingus (Coryell and Catherine both appeared on Mingus' 1977 album Three or Four Shades of Blues). They nonchalantly navigate their way through Django Reinhardt's "Nuages," with Catherine leading the way with his nuanced gypsy phrasing (Mingus called him 'Young Django'). Each plectrist gets plenty of room to blow on the changes to this Django classic (and catch the quote from "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem, at the tag). The two chopsmeisters close out their acoustic Carnegie Hall set in high-flying fashion with Catherine's hard-driving, chops-busting "The Transvested Express," which appeared on Splendid. All kinds of sparks fly on this one.
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) was 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 Harry 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.
Born in Galveston, Texas on April 2, 1943, C o r y e l l m o v e d t o S e a t t l e t o a t t e n d t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f W a s h i n g t o n before coming to New York in 1965 and joining Chico Hamilton's band, replacing G a b o r S z a b o 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 - Foreplay, 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, Coryell undertook challenging classical recordings 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 formed a power trio with former Weather Report bassist Victor Bailey and Return To Forever drummer Lenny White, releasing Electric in 2005 and Traffic the following year. 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.
On the forefront of the European jazz scene since the '70s, Catherine was initially inspired by fusioneers like Coryell and John McLaughlin. Born in London on October 27, 1942, he came from a musical family (his grandfather was first violin with the London Symphony Orchestra) and took up guitar at an early age. After his family moved to Belgium, he became immersed in jazz and by 1961 was touring Europe in various bands. In 1970, he recorded his debut as a leader, Stream, and the following year joined Jean-Luc Ponty's quintet. In 1972, he attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied with George Russell and Mick Goodrick and met fellow student John Scofield. He continued to record as a leader throughout the '70s, accompanied by some of Europe's most outstanding jazz players, including (for one SteepleChase session) expatriates like tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon and pianist Kenny Drew.
In 1976, Catherine and Coryell started working and touring together as an acoustic guitar duo in many parts of the world while also recording 1976's Twin House and 1978's Splendid. They also recorded together on Charles Mingus' 1977 album, Three or Four Shades of Blues. Through the '80s and '90s, Catherine was a ubiquitous figure in the studios, performing on soundtracks, as a sideman (for the likes of Chet Baker, Tom Harrell, Barney Wilen, Miroslav Vitous and Enrico Rava) and on numerous albums of his own. Catherine signed with Dreyfus Records in 1997 and has since released as string of acclaimed albums, including 1998's Guitar Groove (with keyboardist Jim Beard, bassist Alphonso Johnson and drummer Rodney Holmes), 2001's Blue Prince (named record of the year by France's Jazz Man magazine) and 2002's Summer Night and 2005's Meeting. In 2006, he formed a duo with French guitarist Sylvain Luc. In 2008, he released the first solo album of his career, Guitars Two, and followed up in 2010 with Concert in Capbreton and in 2011 with Plays Cole Porter.
-Written by Bill Milkowski