Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Larry Coryell

  • Lady Coryell [Vanguard Apostolic, 1969] B+
  • Coryell [Vanguard Apostolic, 1970] B+
  • Spaces [Vanguard Apostolic, 1970] B
  • Larry Coryell at the Village Gate [Vanguard, 1971] B+
  • Barefoot Boy [Flying Dutchman, 1971] B+
  • Offering [Vanguard, 1972] C+
  • The Real Great Escape [Vanguard, 1973] B-
  • The 11th House [Vanguard, 1974] B+
  • Return [Vanguard, 1979] C+

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Lady Coryell [Vanguard Apostolic, 1969]
Larry Coryell is the greatest thing to happen to the guitar since stretched gut. The permanent evidence of this has been sparse, however--a bad record with the Free Spirits, timid ones with Gary Burton, a somewhat over-avant performance on the Jazz Composer's Orchestra set, and an inspired chorus here or there with jazz-rock leaders like Steve Marcus and Don Sebeskey. This is far more satisfying but still crabbed and uneven. It includes some wonderfully funny wah-wah work alongside apparent homages to Wes Montgomery, near-parody singing alongside a couple of tracks (one composed by Coryell and featuring Elvin Jones, one composed by Junior Walker) that approach the soaring pyrotechnics Coryell can produce when he is good live. Recommended. B+

Coryell [Vanguard Apostolic, 1970]
Coryell has been the jazz rock hope since founding the Free Spirits four years ago, so it's worth noting that his best record to date sounds mostly unimprovised. The title of "Elementary Guitar Solo #5" describes it perfectly--an unsurprising, fairly deliberate progression of notes over the solid bottom of studio soul aces Chuck Rainey and Bernard Purdie, with Coryell's color, authority, and dynamics providing most of the "jazz." It's also worth noting that the most exciting track on the album does sound improvised--"The Jam with Albert" (bassist Stinson). And that he's not singing a whole lot. And that he's still singing too much. B+

Spaces [Vanguard Apostolic, 1970]
This match-up with Coryell's British counterpart John McLaughlin--featuring a milestone rhythm section of Chick Corea, Miroslav Vitous, and Billy Cobham--spends too much time constructing tone poems for Barney Kessell and nowhere near enough playing new rock and roll. I know Coryell has lightning fingers and a brain to match and in an abstract way I admire him for it, but what's made him more than an improvising technician is a concept that includes the loud and the vulgar. Here even the inevitable raveup sounds willfully thin, as if Charlie Parker had given up saxophone for piccolo because he wanted to be respectable. B

Larry Coryell at the Village Gate [Vanguard, 1971]
Between the first and last words of this working-trio album--"Welcome to the death of rock and roll" and "Bliss is all-eternal"--Coryell manages to play a lot of guitar, much of which (unlike the singing) sounds like rock and roll: themes over a steady beat. Even as an improvisor he's more into modal flights and electronic extravaganzas than inventing melodies off the changes. So ignore the rhetoric and face the music. B+

Barefoot Boy [Flying Dutchman, 1971]
The closest thing to a jazz album the man has ever made is also the closest thing to an unflawed album the man has ever made. Much as I enjoy the way Coryell and Steve Marcus pass modes from axe to sax, I do prefer John Coltrane's own tributes to John Coltrane, which are numerous. But this may mean something. B+

Offering [Vanguard, 1972]
Jazz-rock goes progressive, by which I mean cool, man. Coryell is himself, by which I mean a chameleon. But Steve Marcus sticks strictly to soprano, and Mike Mandel makes like he doesn't want anybody to know he once played piano in a (shh) rock band. Peak experience: "Scotland I," which lays out a theme worthy of Mahavishnu. In fact, I'd almost swear I'd heard it before. C+

The Real Great Escape [Vanguard, 1973]
A last-ditch attempt at an album of rock and roll songs, including two by Jimmy Webb (one belongs to P.F. Sloan), Julie's "Are You Too Clever" (somebody'd better be), and Larry's "Makes Me Wanna Shout" (lucky it doesn't make him wanna croon). Not as bad as it might be--it has lots of rough charm and virtuosic passages, and the band sounds gutsy. But those who seek after albums of rock and roll songs will not be impressed. B-

The 11th House [Vanguard, 1974]
Another attempt at real jazz-rock by the man a lot of people think is the best guitarist in the world. Thin and contrived at times, but more often multi-layered and hard, with no mystical bullshit. B+

Return [Vanguard, 1979]
Bird lives! Oops, scuse me, I mean Byrd--Charlie Byrd. With three sons of Dave Brubeck in on the session. After all that he ends up a professional jazzman. C+

See Also