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Larry Coryell

Last Swing With Ireland

by Ian Mann

July 12, 2021


A fitting memorial to the brilliant Coryell, and also an excellent advertisement for the quality of Irish jazz.

Larry Coryell

“Last Swing With Ireland”

(Angel Air SJPCD641)

Larry Coryell – acoustic & electric guitars, Dave Redmond –acoustic & electric bass, Kevin Brady – drums

The American guitarist Larry Coryell (1943 – 2017) enjoyed a near fifty year musical career, first coming to public attention as a member of vibraphonist Gary Burton’s groups before embarking on a solo career, releasing his first album as a leader, simply titled “Coryell”, in 1969.

Coryell is best known as a jazz-rock or ‘fusion’ guitarist and has recorded with some of the biggest names of the genre, including keyboard player Chick Corea and fellow guitarist John McLaughlin. At its peak the popularity of Coryell’s fusion band Eleventh House rivalled that of Corea’s Return To Forever and McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Coryell recorded widely and his albums embraced a broad range of styles and formats, from solo sets and duo recordings, often with other guitarists, to more orthodox quartets and quintets. He was a musician with a wide range of influences ranging through jazz, rock, Latin and classical and the breadth of his interests is reflected in his extensive back catalogue.

Coryell’s early inspirations included jazz guitarists Barney Kessel, Kenny Burrell, Tal Farlowe and, most importantly Wes Montgomery. He later discovered the music of Jimi Hendrix, with the latter’s power and energy merging with those jazz influences to define Coryell’s sound.

Released in April 2021 “Last Swing With Ireland” features Coryell’s last studio recordings and was documented in May 2016 at Hellfire Studios in Dublin with the guitarist accompanied by the Irish rhythm team of bassist Dave Redmond and drummer Kevin Brady.

As Brady’s album notes explain he and Redmond first met Coryell in 2011 at the Angra Jazz Festival in the Azores. As Ireland’s premier jazz rhythm section Brady and Redmond were playing at the Festival with the American pianist Bill Carrothers. They later got to play with Coryell and became the guitarist’s rhythm section of choice for Coryell’s occasional visits to the Emerald Isle. They performed regularly with him during tours in 2015 and 2016.

The session that has become “Last Swing With Ireland” was recorded when Coryell was in Dublin to play a live show with the trio at the city’s The Sugar Club. Apparently this was “an incendiary live show”, a recording of which is due to be released by Angel Air later in 2021.

At the time there’s no way that Coryell would have known that this would be his last visit to a recording studio. His death from heart failure in February 2017 was both sudden and unexpected. After overcoming alcohol and heroin addictions as a young man Coryell had been a committed Buddhist for over thirty years and had practised an appropriately healthy lifestyle. Neither he, nor anybody else, could have seen what was coming.

“Last Swing With Ireland”, recorded in a single four hour session, therefore possesses an agreeably relaxed quality as Coryell and the trio tackle four familiar jazz and bebop standards. They then round off the set with two more obviously ‘fusion’ originals,  jointly credited to Coryell / Brady / Redmond.

In their album notes both Brady and Redmond are quick to praise Coryell’s skill as a guitarist, plus his energy, patience and the sheer force of his personality. Both mention his passion for both music and life and it’s clear that they both loved playing with him, “constantly communicating through music” as Redmond describes it.

The trio commence with an arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood”, played in a languid ballad style with Coryell featuring on acoustic guitar along the deep, woody sound of Redmond’s double bass and Brady’s softly brushed drums. This is the sound of Coryell the mature musician, a far cry from the fusion fireworks of his youth – although as he later proves Coryell could still tear it up when he wanted to. Instead this is a warm, intimate trio performance with Coryell’s cleanly picked acoustic guitar lines subtly exploring the harmonies of the piece. Redmond and Brady also perform admirably, the bassist’s sound is warm and melodic, occasionally stepping into the foreground, while Brady’s exquisite delicate brush work is the epitome of taste and restraint. The piece ends with an extended solo guitar cadenza but this is very much a true trio performance, with the two Irishmen more than playing their part.

The all acoustic sound continues on Luis Bonfa’s “Morning Of The Carnival” (aka “Black Orpheus”), introduced by an extended passage of solo acoustic guitar. Again Coryell subtly explores the melodic and chordal contours of the piece, skilfully shadowed by Redmond and Brady,  with the bassist providing a melodic counterpoint to Coryell’s playing. This becomes more virtuosic as the piece progresses and gathers momentum, with the guitarist occasionally singing along with his own playing.

There’s a change of direction as Coryell moves to a classic ‘archtop’ jazz guitar for an energetic version of Charlie Parker’s “Relaxin’ At The Camarillo”, a bebop delight with Coryell’s slippery, fiery lines a reminder of those early Kessel and Burrell influences. In the spirit of bop Redmond and Brady are given a greater share of the spotlight, the bassist with a concise but swinging solo, Brady by introducing the song at the drums and later enjoying a series of colourful breaks in a gleeful, and frequently dazzling,  series of exchanges with Coryell.

Also featuring the archtop the trio’s version of “Someday My Prince Will Come” is based on a Miles Davis arrangement of the tune. Redmond’s one note bass intro, accompanied by the tick of Brady’s cymbals, allows Coryell to insert his own agile guitar fills, including a quote from Stravinsky. The piece later opens out as Coryell improvises around the familiar melody, with Redmond and Brady providing brisk support, although overall the performance is less frenetic than that of the Parker piece. Redmond also enjoys a second full length double bass solo, a fluent and highly confident excursion,  while Brady follows him with another series of spirited and inventive drum breaks in a further series of exchanges with the leader. Redmond’s one note bass figure then brings the piece full circle.

The final two pieces see Coryell cranking up his amp and playing with great power and passion as he confirms his “Godfather of Fusion” status. Credited to all three musicians “The Last Peavy” is a blues flavoured jam featuring Redmond on electric bass.  There’s some genuinely heavy, high octane playing here, combining chunky riffing and funky grooves with fiery improvised solos, the players urging each other on with frequent shouts of encouragement. Redmond’s bass playing combines muscularity with agility, coming to the fore for a classic fusion style solo, this followed by a volcanic drum feature from Brady, his hard hitting pyrotechnics representing a total contrast to his feathery brushwork on the opening track. Seasoned Coryell listeners may be reminded of the classic, Hendrix-esque “The Jam With Albert”, recorded for the “Coryell” album and featuring the late Albert Stinson on electric bass and drum legend Bernard Purdie behind the kit.

Redmond moves back to acoustic bass from album closer “396”, again credited to Coryell/Brady/Redmond. Larry remains very much plugged in on this seductive, modal style piece, lithely improvising around Redmond’s grounding bass motif and Brady’s subtly propulsive drumming. The latter breaks cover for a neatly constructed solo drum feature, followed shortly afterwards by a similarly accomplished bass solo from the consistently excellent Redmond.

At first glance “Last Swing With Ireland” might seem to be a bit of a ‘throw away’ session, dashed off during the course of a single afternoon. But of course it’s much more than that. Nobody could have known that Coryell would be dead within a year and the album has inevitably gained a greater degree of significance because of his passing. It has been released with the permission of his widow, Tracey Coryell.

However it’s also a damn fine album in its own right, highlighting three very different aspects of Coryell’s musical personality within a unified jazz framework. The sequencing of the tracks as three stylistically linked pairs –  for the sake of argument acoustic, archtop and fusion – works well and gives the guitarist an opportunity to demonstrate both his virtuosity and his versatility. At this point he was still an artist very much on the top of his game and the energy and passion of which Brady and Redmond speak is very much apparent throughout.

“Last Swing With Ireland” represents a fitting memorial to the brilliant Coryell but it will also serve to bring the playing of Redmond and Brady to the attention of an international jazz audience and in this sense it also represents an excellent advertisement for the quality of Irish jazz. Both the drummer and the bassist play superbly throughout, always with skill, and with delicacy or with fire as required. They are totally on Coryell’s wavelength, and although it’s inevitably the guitarist’s album both Redmond and Brady emerge with a lot of credit, as does recording engineer Ivan Jackman.

My thanks to Kevin Brady for alerting me to the existence of this very enjoyable, and ultimately highly significant album.

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