Larry Coryell at the Jazz Factory

By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr

Larry Coryell made his third Jazz Factory appearance since October of 2003, to an appropriately packed house, including many Louisville musicians and Louisville Jazz Society members, on Wednesday, May 30. The advance billing had his trio members listed as Mark Egan on bass, who was with Coryell the past two times and a "tbd" drummer. It turned out that the drummer was Paul Wertico, who had been here with Coryell and Egan before, but the bassist was Jonathan Wood, an Indianapolis musician with family roots here in Louisville. The last two times Coryell was here, he was supporting new CD releases; this time he was displaying his hot-off-the-press autobiography, Improvising: My Life in Music and flashing newlywed grins all over the place, having just married his longtime significant other, the former Tracey Piergross, on May 13.

Preliminaries aside, Coryell's playing was as good as ever. His performance took stylistic turns through most of his playing styles over the years, from fusion to "new acoustic music" to mainstream Wes Montgomery, to a touch of the blues thrown in for good measure. Among the original pieces were the opening "Good Citizen Swallow," referring to Coryell's old bandmate in the Gary Burton Quartet, bassist Steve Swallow. Next up was Milt Jackson's "Bags' Groove," during which a glitch with Coryell's electric guitar led him to switch to an acoustic with a pickup, with no loss of verve or enthusiasm for this swinging bop classic. Thelonious Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle" and Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" showed the maturity of Coryell's mainstream stylings, before the trio tore into the rolling excitement of Coryell's "Dragon Gate." Mrs. Coryell was the dedicatee of a solo version of the Gershwin song "Our Love Is Here to Stay," after which she joined hubby and band for two Tracy Chapman songs and a bump'n'grind take on B.B. King's standard "Rock Me Baby," which closed out the first set.

Another Monk tune, "Well You Needn't," opened the second set, followed by another standard, "Star Eyes." A Coryell favorite, Wes Montgomery's "Bumpin' on Sunset," contained a very intense solo, the tension of which was released by a lovely acoustic take on the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home." A medley of Gershwin's "'S Wonderful" and Jobim's "Wave" tied together two top composers in a superb solo outing. Wood and Wertico returned for Coryell's tribute to his new wife, "Tracey," before going into a frenzied workout on Coryell's "Spaces Revisited," a song written for Billy Cobham and allowing Wertico lots of room to solo, before the group veered into Jimi Hendrix's first US hit, "Purple Haze." An encore of Jimmy Smith's "Back at the Chicken Shack" had people up and dancing and was a soulful end to an outstanding night of music.

In addition to his work with Coryell and, previously, Pat Metheny, Paul Wertico is a leader and composer in his own right. He has two recent releases which stray off the beaten path, yet will be rewarding to those who listen with open ears. The Paul Wertico Trio: Another Side (NAIM CD 093; finds Wertico, longtime associate John Moulder on guitar and bassist/organist Brian Peters captured live in August, 2005, in Chicago's St. Gregory the Great Church. The opening "The Big Organ," is a somber prelude which leads into "Children of the Night," replete with spectral overtones. There are several percussion interludes throughout the album, which are not only intrinsically interesting, but often serve as bridges from one piece to the next. On the surface, this is a "guitar trio" CD, yet it is really more of a journey through atmospheres and musical evocations. The other new recording, Ampersand (Rat Howl RH0001), is credited to Brian Peters and Paul Wertico. It is, in a broad way of speaking, more like Another Side than any of Wertico's work with Coryell or Metheny. It is currently available through the websites of the artists, and It, too, is full of atmospheric explorations, often more in the nature of ambient music. The "liner notes" available on Peters' website are lengthy and provide much insight into the artist as well as his creation. If you expect and desire "jazz" or "fusion," you might best be advised to look elsewhere. If, however, such terms imply pigeonholes to you and you seek to explore innovative, label-less music, check out these recordings from Wertico and company.