Larry Coryell and the Tree of Jazz-Fusion

Larry Coryell and the Tree of Jazz-Fusion
Authored By John Nicholson

My own love of jazz-fusion dates back to when I was 14 and for no reason that I can recall decided to buy The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Inner Mounting Flame album. What roared out of the grooves was a noise I had never heard the like of before in my short life. The guitar was loud and distorted, just the way I liked it, but everything else was different. It seemed to fill up holes in my mind that I didn’t know were even there, let alone empty. 

Thus began my adventure into jazz-rock/fusion (I’m never sure what the genre difference is) and it wasn’t long before I found other bands like, Return To Forever and Tony Williams' Lifetime who tickled the same synapses. So when I found a copy of Larry Coryell’s Spaces, I began to understand more about where this incredible music had come from. 

Released in 1970 Spaces featured future Mahavishnu’s John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham but it was my introduction to Larry’s work. I loved it from the first note. When you call something tasteful, it can often be a backhanded criticism of something that is a little too refined or bloodless. But in Larry’s case, it means classy, expressive and beautifully melodic. And fast. Really fast. And I love fast guitar.  

From Spaces I jumped into his extensive back catalogue and discovered such a wonderful rainbow of music. Introducing Eleventh House with Larry Coryell is perhaps closer to the rock music of Jeff Beck in the early to mid-70s but the wonderful Two For The Road with Steve Khan is an all acoustic duo live session that is little short of mind-bowing in its adventure, dynamics and space.

Tributaries is a well-named album he did in 1979 with Joe Beck and John Scofield because it led so many people like me to row down the river of their discographies. Two players who really influenced rock music, Beck played on Al Kooper records and on Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years and One Trick Pony. A fierce, sometimes wild electric guitarist, when paired with Coryell’s sweetness and Scofield’s precision and radical perspective, it made for an album of infinite variety. Later Govt Mule would write an amazing heavy jazz-rock number called Sco-Mule as a sonic tribute to him.  

Yes, Larry Coryell is a great jumping off point for so much music on the many-branched tree of jazz fusion. Sadly he passed away in 2017 at the far too young age of 73 but what a legacy of music he left. 

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