Top 10 Favorite Larry Coryell Tracks
I think Larry Coryell (1943-2017) has to be one of the most underrated guitarists in modern music. Aside from his clear historical significance in melding jazz and rock guitar traditions and techniques, the pure artistic brilliance with which he straddled those lines is rather stunning. While nowadays it may be more common for guitarists to be fully fluent in both of those arenas, Coryell broke tremendous ground for all of the youngins. Many rock guitarists lack the rhythmic nuance and harmonic fluency to play jazz authoritatively, and many jazz guitarists sound comparatively wimpy and/or cerebral when they play rock. Larry pulled off both with utter conviction, and I’ve always been particularly enamored of the contexts in which he has been able to do both.
The list is in chronological order and leaves out records I really dig by, among others, Herbie Mann, Jim Pepper (with whom he also played in the early days of the Free Spirits), Sonny Rollins, Leon Thomas, Donald Harrison, Joey DeFrancesco, Paco de Lucia, and Ron Carter.
1 ) “Green Moss” from Nine Flags (by Chico O’Farrill – 1966)
This is not Larry’s first record date (it’s his third, I believe), but his feature on this tune is honestly one of the most fascinating guitar solos I’ve ever heard, somehow channeling Barney Kessel, B.B. King, and Chuck Berry at various points yet still sounding coherent. This one is long out of print, but is on YouTube as of this writing.
2 ) “One, Two, 1-2-3-4” from Duster (by Gary Burton – 1967)
Though finally back in print after years, I can’t for the life of me understand how the Gary Burton Quartet of the late 1960s isn’t better known, especially by the musicians of my generation. The word “groundbreaking” gets thrown around a lot, but these cats really were. All four of the albums they produced (including A Genuine Tong Funeral, which augments the group) are classics and display the incredible interplay between Burton and Coryell. While I love their more lyrical material, if it had to be one song then I’m going with this rave-up, buoyed by the ferocious playing of Steve Swallow and Roy Haynes.
3 ) “Rain” from Tomorrow Never Knows (by Steve Marcus – 1967)
The work Steve Marcus did with his cohorts in the days before “fusion” had a name is both historically important and musically potent. There are other tracks that more prominently feature Larry as a soloist (I suggest “Theresa’s Blues” from Count’s Rock Band), but he does get his turn here on a track that really exemplifies what the middle ground is between 1960s Coltrane and psychedelic-era Beatles.
4 ) “Treats Style” from Lady Coryell (by 1968)
Larry swings hard in a trio with Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. ‘Nuff said.
5 ) “Rene’s Theme” from Spaces (by 1970)
Thanks to the presence of John McLaughlin, this album features the two towering influences in jazz/rock guitar side by side. So, appropriately enough, I’m picking the acoustic duet, which is lovely and interactive but not without some fireworks as well.
6) “Birdfingers” from Introducing the Eleventh House (1973)
Along with the also recently-departed drummer/composer Alphonse Mouzon, Coryell produced some excellent work with this hard-driving band (on this record also featuring Randy Brecker on trumpet) that is right in the wheelhouse of the 1970s fusion sounds associated with Return to Forever, Billy Cobham, and others.
7 ) “Carolyn ‘Kiki” Mingus” from Me Myself An Eye (by Charles Mingus – 1978)
Heady company here, as Coryell follows Lee Konitz and Michael Brecker as soloists on this gorgeous Jack Walrath arrangement from the first Mingus album produced after Mingus’s own battle with ALS had left him wheelchair-bound and unable to play. Larry toes the line between edginess and sensitivity perfectly.
8 ) “Nefertiti” from Shining Hour (1989)
Beginning in the 1980s, Larry had a long streak of really authoritative straight-ahead jazz records. Kenny Barron and company swing hard while Larry displays his rhythmic ease and harmonic fluency on this tricky Wayne Shorter composition.
9 ) “Sink or Swim” from The Coryells (by the Coryells – 1999)
This whole album (featuring Larry in an acoustic setting alongside his guitar-slinging sons Murali and Julian) is a lot of fun, but I’m particularly fond of this track, which prominently features all three of them as soloists.
10) “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” from Duality (by Kenny Drew, Jr. and Larry Coryell – 2011)
I’ve always admired Larry’s duo playing, and it’s particularly poignant here alongside another great musician we lost recently, pianist Kenny Drew, Jr. – both musicians display not only the chops for which they are well-known but also great versatility and sensitivity of interplay.