Larry Coryell

European Impressions

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This record, half of which was recorded live at the 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival, remains one of the finest documents in the genre of steel-string acoustic jazz guitar. Along with John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, and a small handful of others, Larry Coryell was a major figure in the field, which saw its heyday throughout much of the '70s and '80s. Here was a new sort of guitar hero, not wailing in front of a wall of Marshall amps, but sitting alone with an acoustic guitar (often a round-backed Ovation), playing music rooted in the improvisational aesthetics of jazz but which often veered all over the stylistic map -- classical, flamenco, 12-tone, rock, and just about anything else. Coryell's opening statement, "Toronto Under the Sign of Capricorn," fits the bill to a T: Beginning with cryptic, atonal lines and rhythmically off-kilter phrases, the piece then segues into a slow, romantic melody before it erupts into a rousing vamp punctuated with flurries of speed-picked, 16th-note fills. The performance is replete with showmanship, but that's not all there is to it; indeed, Coryell's technique is too rough-hewn to be thrilling all on its own. What makes the piece so interesting is its melodic integrity, rhythmic energy, and three-tiered structure. One hears similar qualities on the other two live tracks, "For Philip and Django" and "Rodrigo Reflections," and on three of the four studio cuts, "April Seventh," "Variations on a Theme," and the wonderfully dreamy "Copenhagen Impressions." While one may expect a reversion to straight-ahead jazz on the Horace Silver medley "Song for My Father/Sister Sadie," Coryell doggedly remolds these hard bop standards into his own kind of acoustic guitar music. Essential for guitar buffs, although one has to dig around to locate a copy.

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