Larry Coryell – The Lift (2013)

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Recently I came across a video of televised performance featuring the Gary Burton Quartet, and its guitarist Larry Coryell was using his solo time to deliver some tasty licks that perfectly bridged the gap between rock guitar and jazz guitar. That might not sound like a unique skill among good guitarists today, but that performance was from 1967 and Coryell was around 24 years old at the time. Miles Davis was still in the middle of his all-acoustic Second Great Quintet and Bitches Brew was a couple of years away. Coryell went on to participate at the forefront of the fusion revolution as a solo artist and leading the Eleventh House fusion combo in the early 70s.

Though he’s since built up equally impressive credentials as a post-bop guitarist, Coryell’s been in a fusion state of mind lately. He’s going to turn 70 next month but shows not even a trace of slowing down. If anything, he’s been revitalized on his Wide Hive records and his third one for the label is as raw and energetic as anything he’s done in a studio for decades. The Lift, as this latest one is called, scales back from the large, horn-laden backing band he used on 2011’s righteous Larry Coryell With The Wide Hive Players down to mostly just a tidy electric guitar/electric bass/drums unit. Matt Montgomery (bass) and Lumpy (drums) are the only other musicians present on the album, save for Chester Smith and his organ on three cuts.

The performances here are raw, a natural outcome from these being single take recordings, and the warm, vintage analog sound captured by record label founder Gregory Howe. Even more credit for that rough-and-ready sound goes to Coryell himself, whose delightfully dirty tone and broken notes are his trademark, and it’s even more ragged on The Lift.

These dozen tracks are essentially concise jams but each brings some kind of unique twist. “Going Up” utilizes an odd time signature (at one point, Lumpy slips in a 4/4 beat while Coryell continues to play the odd meter and somehow it still fits). The 9/8 strut of “Rough Cut” frames Coryell’s circular riff, as Smith improvises over that. The groove on “The Lift” is a lighter, jazzier one while the one on “Lafayette” is rubbery, “Wild Rye” is a straight rocker and “Stadium Wave” boasts a Latin flavor. Coryell plays the blues in his own way, too: “Arena Blues” is heavily psychedelic, his fuzzy notes bouncing off the walls of the studio, while “Broken Blues” rocks hard against a jazz swing beat.

Coryell also dubs a lead acoustic guitar over a rhythm one for a couple of tracks. “Clear Skies” is an agile, percussive blues number using jazz chords, while “The First Day Of Autumn” closes out the album with a gentle folk tune.

Liberally alternating between fully chorded attacks and single-line barrages, Coryell is lick machine on The Lift, sounding much closer to that twenty-four year old spring chicken than a guy about to enter his eighth decade on earth. The Lift could have been a time capsule from forty years plus ago opened up to demonstrate how Coryell used to sound like. But it isn’t; the original fusion guitarist remains as sharp and energetic today as he ever did. And you best believe this ol’ guy can still rock his ass off.

The Lift goes on sale March 12, offered by Wide Hive Records.

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