Music News

Larry Coryell is still a fleet-fingered jazz mastermind

In 1965, after attending college in Seattle, a 22-year-old Larry Coryell headed to New York. He stopped in Denver first, though, where he heard the organ trio was all the rage. As he made his away around Five Points jazz clubs asking to sit in, he met drummer Buddy Miles (who later joined Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys). The pair would jam in one place, and after they wore out their welcome, they'd hit another joint.

Miles took a liking to Coryell and asked him to stay in Denver, but the young guitarist still had his mind set on New York. "I had to leave," Coryell recalls. "I was determined to go to New York because I felt at the time that even though I could play a little bit, I really didn't think I could play very well at all. I thought about it for a minute, but I knew I had to go to New York, because I knew my knowledge was very limited and my experience was very narrow."

In New York he watched guys like Grant Green, Charles Lloyd and John Coltrane play, which helped open his ears. He eventually started getting national recognition himself when he joined Gary Burton's band in 1967. In the four decades since then, Coryell has recorded with Charles Mingus, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and other jazz heavyweights. And though he's released sixty or so albums as a leader, he's never done an organ-trio album. In fact, Coryell says he's rarely played with an organist since that stopover in Denver.

So when David Chesky of Chesky Records approached him about doing an organ-trio tribute to Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery, Coryell jumped on the idea for his latest album, Impressions: The New York Sessions.

"[Chesky] felt it was an appropriate step because it was a different direction from the other recordings I'd made for him," says Coryell. "I've done some acoustic recordings for him, and then I've done some overdrive electric guitar recordings. I've done two of those. But this one was just a straightahead jazz sound, and I think his timing was good to suggest that."

For the album, Coryell teamed up with organist Sam Yahel and former Pat Metheny drummer Paul Wertico and recorded in a church, which is a common Chesky practice. "It was just like slipping into an old, comfortable shoe," Coryell says of the session. "I know how to do this. This is something I hadn't done for so long, but it felt so comfortable."

On the Denver leg of his current tour, Coryell is bringing along organist Joe Bagg and drummer Alphonse Mouzon, who was a member of his early-'70s fusion band, the Eleventh House. In addition to playing cuts from Impressions, Coryell says the trio will play some Eleventh House material. After a successful one-time Eleventh House reunion show opening for Return to Forever, Coryell and Mouzon are also planning to reorganize Eleventh House for a tour next year.