Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine – Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic XI: The Last Call
(ACT 9929-2. CD Review by Adam Sieff)
Guitarists Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine have history going back to the mid 1970s, a time when Coryell’s great fusion group The Eleventh House was going through personnel changes and a label switch that eventually saw it disintegrate, never achieving the commercial success of bands like Return to Forever or The Mahavishnu Orchestra. At that time Catherine had been studying in Boston at Berklee and had just served a short stint replacing Jan Akkerman in Focus.
Away from the distractions and the big amplifiers, the two guitarists made the wonderful acoustic duet album Twin House at Olympic Studios in London during 1976, followed by the almost as good Splendid! which was recorded in Hamburg two years later, both albums produced by Siggi Loch in his ACT/Elektra days. In between, there was Back Together Again by Coryell and former Eleventh House drummer Alphonse Mouzon, with Catherine also participating, but the less said about that disco-fuelled stinker, the better. Coryell and Catherine toured together extensively during this period and an Eleventh House line-up with Catherine performed at the Berliner Jazztage Festival in 1976, the two guitarists winning over the critics with their duo set.
So fast forward to 24 January 2017, and back to the same venue, the Philharmonie in Berlin. This time the event is Art of Duo curated by ACT Records CEO/Founder Siggi Loch, who, once again, is producer. Recorded and mixed by Klaus Scheuermann, The Last Call features the four pieces Coryell and Catherine performed that evening, as well as two duos between Catherine and pianist Jan Lundgren, and Coryell and double bassist Lars Danielsson, before everyone joins together to round off the evening with the addition of trumpeter Paolo Fresu. Sadly, this was to be Larry Coryell’s last appearance in a concert hall. Only a few weeks later he passed away after playing a two-night gig at The Iridium in New York.
There are two tracks from Twin House, and Miss Julie still sounds very much of its time but wonderful all the same and no less intimidating to budding guitar players. Catherine has always had a more experimental side to his playing and on his Homecomings, possibly the best piece he’s written, he conjures bittersweet emotions from a wonderful tune. Their contrasting guitar tones blend well with each player offering a nicely defined sound, Coryell is playing his Martin Larry Coryell model prototype acoustic, whereas Catherine uses the same Gibson ES-175 electric he has played since he was a teenager. They play now as if they’re listening to each other a little more, Coryell is more emotional and less flashy than he had once tended to be. There’s a delicately played version of Luiz Bonfá and Antônio Maria’s Manhã de Carnaval, and a gorgeous, swinging bluesy Jemen-Eye’n by Coryell with lots of fine soloing.
The other configurations work well – Catherine and Lundgren’s warm reading of George and Ira Gershwin’s Embraceable You, and a rollicking Bag’s Groove by Milt Jackson performed by Coryell and Danielsson which might be the best fun of the whole evening. The final flourish of all hands closing the album with Bronislow Kaper and Ned Washington’s Green Dolphin Street ends the evening nicely followed by a minute’s worth of applause from the hugely enthusiastic audience.
Coryell and Catherine were very good together, often bringing out much of the best of each other. This album is a very welcome recording of their reunion, and of a memorable evening of excellent guitar playing.
The Last Call will be available on the ACT Bandcamp page from release date on 19 February 2021