Larry Coryell (1943-2017)


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Larry Coryell, a guitarist who played rock 'n' roll as a teen but wound up pioneering jazz-rock fusion starting in the mid-1960s and then psychedelic fusion in the early '70s, died on Feb. 19. He was 73.

Born in Texas and raised in Seattle, Coryell studied at the University of Washington while taking private classical guitar lessons. In 1965 when he was 22, Coryell moved to New York just as instrumental folk and rock were intriguing skilled musicians and captivating young audiences.

Coryell's early group, the Free Spirits, was a fascinating hybrid of folk and R&B, combining the California sound of the Byrds and bluesy instrumental riffs found on R&B records by groups such as the Coasters and produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The Free Spirits' first album, Out of Sight and Sound (1966), featured Jim Pepper (ts,fl), Larry Coryell (g,sitar,vcl), Columbus “Chip" Baker (g,vcl), Chris Hills (el-b) and Bob Moses (d).

Coryell's exposure to the bluesy avant-garde jazz of drummer Bob Moses on the drummer's Love Animal (1967) album added an element of sophistication and experimentation to Coryell's guitar playing.

But it wasn't until Coryell's appearance on Gary Burton's albums Duster (April 1967) and Lofty Fake Anagram (Aug. 1967) that he and Gary began to invent a new sound that combined the dreamy energy of rock with the wandering improvisation of jazz. Coryell's rock guitar also began to flower on his first leadership albums, Lady Coryell (1968) and Coryell (1969), particularly the latter, on Jam With Albert.  

In March 1973, Coryell recorded Introducing The Eleventh House, which launched his long-form psychedelic fusion band, featuring Randy Brecker (tp), Mike Mandel (p,synt), Larry Coryell (g), Danny Trifan (b) and Alphonse Mouzon (d). Around this time, Chick Corea formed Return to Forever, John McLaughlin started the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report was formed. Touring college campuses, jazz-rock fusion bands quickly caught on with university students looking for a more sophisticated form of rock that abandoned vocals for long instrumental solos. By the mid-1970s, fusion bands—with their electrified instruments—sidelined acoustic jazz for nearly a decade.

Here are my favorite Larry Coryell tracks from his early fusion-evolution years:

Here's Larry Coryell in 1966 with the Free Spirits playing Cosmic Daddy Dancer (dig traces of the Coasters' Yakety Yak)...

Here's Coryell with Bob Moses on Rock Fantasy in 1967...

Here's Coryell and Gary Burton with Steve Swallow (b) and Roy Haynes (d), on Gary's Duster album, playing Ballet...

Here's Coryell's Jam With Albert on his album, Coryell (the “Albert" here is electric bassist Albert Stinson...

Here's Coryell and Miroslav Vitous (b) and Billy Cobham (d) playing Gloria's Step from Coryell and John McLauglin's Spaces album in 1970...

And here's Ism-Ejercicio from Introducing the Eleventh House with Larry Coryell, recorded in 1973...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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