Album reviews

Larry Coryell – ‘Last Swing With Ireland’

Larry Coryell Last Swing With Ireland
(Angel Air. Album Review by Denny Ilett)

There can sometimes be something slightly voyeuristic about listening to an artist’s final recordings. One might become pre-occupied with listening out for signs or clues; did they know what was just around the corner? Often, these recordings, released posthumously, take on a tragic element for fans which can interfere with objective listening.

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This new release, on Angel Air records, contains guitarist Larry Coryell’s final studio outing recorded in Dublin during May 2016. (There is also a later live concert recording from Berlin – link to review below). Coryell was in town working at The Sugar Club with his hand-picked local rhythm section of Dave Redmond (bass) and Kevin Brady (drums). Incidentally, Angel Air promise a release of a live performance at the club by the trio sometime later this year. 

Recorded at Dublin’s Hellfire Studios, Coryell and the rhythm section play through six pieces. Four evergreens: Ellington’s In A Sentimental Mood, Bonfa’s Manha de Carnaval, Parker’s Relaxin’ At Camarillo and the Morey/Churchill classic Someday My Prince Will Come; and two Coryell originals, The Last Peavey and 396.

Larry Coryell’s pedigree as a jazz and fusion pioneer needs little in the way of a reminder here. The “Godfather Of Fusion” managed to release well over 70 albums as leader and countless others as sideman/collaborator during his glittering 50-year career, not to mention his willingness to educate and inspire the next generation through a brilliant series of tuition videos that proved he was less of a genre-busting musician than he was a genre-forming one!

What’s talked about less, though, is his unique take on ‘standard’ themes; something that is very much in evidence on this intimate session with his friends. On In A Sentimental Mood and Manha De Carnival Coryell is in an almost introspective mood playing both pieces on acoustic guitar; eschewing the fireworks he’s so celebrated for; exploring every nook and cranny of the melodic and harmonic possibilities. 

For Relaxin’ At Camarillo and Someday My Prince Will Come Larry moves over to the electric sounding, at times, like a ‘modern’ Kenny Burrell with that ‘clean-but-edgy’ archtop sound that so few jazz guitarists seem to exploit these days.

Redmond and Brady play wonderfully behind Coryell throughout this album clearly listening intently, and reacting accordingly, to everything emanating from that famous guitar. Each gets his solo space too and what wonderful soloists they are, but it’s as a unit that this trio really triumphs. The interplay and dynamic rise-and-fall betray this as anything but a ‘pick up’ band. These three have a musical relationship that can only form from working regularly together; presenting the music as a cohesive and sympathetic group, not as a star soloist and backing band.

The concluding two tracks The Last Peavey and 369 see the trio in fusion territory. Coryell’s guitar is heavier on these tracks with Redmond on electric bass for Peavey, a blues of the type that All Blues would be if played as a half-time funk; the group throwing off whatever ‘shackles’ may have been present on the standards; the guys audibly shouting encouragement during Larry’s improvisation before a spectacular drum solo from Kevin Brady brings the piece to a close.

The final piece, 369, is a modal workout in 15/4 divided 4-4-4-3 and based around a simple bass riff. Redmond is back onto upright bass here driving the whole thing along before contributing a great solo. 

Last Swing With Ireland is really an album of ‘three halves’ starting with the two floating acoustic tracks. Then, the middle two are the electric swingers before the album closes with the final two fusion numbers. The fact that Larry Coryell succumbed to heart failure a mere nine months after these recordings is, of course, poignant but what’s in evidence throughout is an artist inspired, vibrant and oozing vitality. Clearly feeding off the energy of his brilliant bandmates, Coryell is in supreme form on every track giving us all a reminder that ‘fusion’, whatever that actually means, was just one string to his ample bow. 

LINKS: Last Swing With Ireland on Angel Air

Review of The Last Call from January 2017 in Berlin

Podcast: Asaf Sirkis remembers Larry Coryell

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