Review: High drama from Larry Coryell at Jazz Showcase

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Larry Coryell

Larry Coryell (December 7, 2012)

Guitarist Larry Coryell always comes to Chicago prepared to play, but Thursday evening was different.

From his opening notes at the Jazz Showcase, Coryell lit a fire several degrees hotter than in recent years. Though his annual residencies at the club have been noteworthy for the intellectual content and interpretive depth of his work, this time Coryell added a visceral element one doesn't necessarily associate with this mature period of his career.

Granted, at this late date in jazz history, any major soloist who opens an engagement with a weathered – though enduringly beautiful – tune such as "Autumn Leaves" had better do something creative with it, if only to maintain artistic credibility. So even if Coryell essentially was warming up with his much-admired Chicago trio, featuring drummer Paul Wertico and bassist Larry Gray, the guitarist played an "Autumn Leaves" like none other.

No sooner did he start the song than he sabotaged it with astringent chords, jagged phrases and the grinding dissonances that musicians call "minor seconds." More important, Coryell packed his solos with a profusion of well-chosen notes, crafting fast-running lines rich in ideas and elegant in contour. Clearly, this was going to be a distinctive evening.

By moving next to Milt Jackson's "Bags' Groove," Coryell clearly was drawing his repertoire from the exuberant album he cut with these same musicians roughly a decade ago, "The Power Trio: Live in Chicago." That session was recorded at an earlier incarnation of the Jazz Showcase, on West Grand Avenue, but its rambunctious spirit endured. In "Bags' Groove," Coryell dug even more deeply into arcane harmony, building extended chords of considerable complexity and stating them with the boldest colors possible.

He turned down the dial a bit in "Star Eyes," also from the "Live in Chicago" disc, but the copiousness of his melodic invention was undiminished. The more muted nature of his tone, however, enabled listeners to appreciate how much bassist Gray and drummer Wertico brought to this band. To hear Gray run the tune through so many variations was to appreciate anew his mastery of both harmony and his instrument. Wertico, a master technician, played with silence as cleverly and mischievously as he did with sound.

The dramatic high point came with "Bumpin' on Sunset," a Wes Montgomery classic that surfaces – sooner or later – in almost every Coryell engagement, including the "Live in Chicago" album. Coryell started big and built from there, his tempo unhurried but his rhythmic drive relentless. By the time he reached his culminating solo, Coryell was standing up and powering blasts of sound, his tremolo chords practically shaking the room.

If his solo Lennon-McCartney segment didn't quite work, with too many breaks between musical phrases, Coryell made up for it with a "Black Orpheus" of extraordinary delicacy. Gray and Wertico somehow played just beneath Coryell's pianissimo lines, the piece a softly smoldering finish to an incendiary set.

Benny Goodman Fest

The Music Institute of Chicago will present a Benny Goodman Festival at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1 and 2 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston. Clarinetists Victor Goines and Larry Combs will be among the soloists. For more information, phone 847-905-1500 or visit musicinst.org.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday

Where: Jazz Showcase, 806 S Plymouth Ct.

Admission: $30-$45; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com

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