9:23 AM CST, December 7, 2012
Guitarist Larry Coryell has performed with drummer Paul Wertico and bassist Larry Gray so often that when they reunited Thursday night at the Jazz Showcase, they sounded as if they were resuming a conversation in midstream.
Coryell visits Chicago regularly on his national tours, and he usually taps Chicagoans Wertico and Gray to join him, for reasons made obvious once again on this evening. These three musicians show such ease and empathy with one another that the music flows easily from the outset.
On this occasion, Coryell sounded in particularly high spirits, most of his work extroverted in gesture and penetrating in tone. That was particularly the case in John Coltrane's "Impressions," which Coryell and friends took at quite a clip. Coryell delivered the main theme with considerable rhythmic drive and tonal allure, Wertico adding plenty of momentum and power, yet also remarkable lightness of touch. Quite a feat.
By the time the musicians moved on to Wes Montgomery's "Bumpin' on Sunset," a Coryell favorite, they were in deep-blues territory. Coryell's fat chords, dark tone and earthy downbeats gave the performance plenty of character, with Wertico and Gray providing a chugging rhythmic backdrop.
For sheer emotional intensity, however, the high point came in Coryell's "The Dragon Gate," a signature tune that starts big and inexorably gets bigger. Coryell built the piece on provocatively weird chords and slashing rhythmic accents, piling one climax atop another. All of this surging intensity peaked with Wertico's solo, a tour de force of rapid-fire articulation and thickening textures backed by Coryell and Gray's relentless accompaniment. No wonder "The Dragon Gate" remains a showpiece for this trio.
Anyone who follows Coryell's work knows that he always includes a solo piece dedicated to his wife, and it's usually the Gershwins' "Our Love is Here to Stay." Coryell played the song in particularly intimate, soft-spoken fashion – or perhaps it just sounded that way after all the sturm und drang that preceded it. Either way, Coryell's delicately ornamented melody lines, gently swinging rhythmic passages and whispering arpeggios high up on the fingerboard made for a disarming jazz nocturne.
Coryell closed the set with another tune he's often drawn to, Luiz Bonfa's "Morning of the Carnival," from the film "Black Orpheus." Here Coryell played poetically, switching between unhurried, unmetered passages and a subtly swaying backbeat.
Before long, however, the guitarist was throwing off fleet runs and venturing far afield harmonically, once again swept up in the exuberance of the moment.
Larry Coryell Trio
When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday
Where: Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.
Admission: $25; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com
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