Larry Coryell, Victory Bailey, and Lenny White all have long musical histories, much of it tied up with the first wave of jazz fusion music. Bailey followed Jaco Pastorious in the late editions of Weather Report, and continued to work with keyboardist Joe Zawinul in the Zawinul Syndicate. Drummer White played with the most famous lineup of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever before embarking on a solo career in which he collaborated with the cream of fusion players, including Brian Auger, Jan Hammer, Miroslav Vitous, Al DiMeola, and Larry Coryell. Coryell, of course, is one of the original fusion guitarists. Along with Jimi Hendrix and John McLaughlin, Coryell pretty much demonstrated the possibilities of merging rock, jazz, and sheer electronic sound into a powerful sonic force, reinventing the language of the electric guitar along the way.
Coryell can effectively play any style, and his discography is all over the map, so no one can generally claim to know what he’s going to do next. Electric comes on the heels of 2004’s Tricylces, on which Coryell played fairly straight-ahead modern jazz with his trio. The group featured on Electric is definitely a power trio, and one that raises mighty expectations. In many ways, this seems like a jazz-fusion Cream, but the results are a bit less spectacular than one might expect. That’s not to say Electric doesn’t have some great moments, nor that the musicians here do not rise to the high level of musicianship most listeners will be expecting. No, it’s more that one never feels like this trio cuts loose the way it might have. Everything is just a little too subdued, especially Coryell, who one might have thought would really burn on his return to electric guitar fusion.
The disc begins pleasantly with Lenny White’s composition “Wolfbane,” and Coryell starts off with some atmospheric crunch chords before launching into the melody. Bailey is right on the money with his elastic, bass work, and White pushes things along nicely. Coryell does some tasty solo work, and the whole thing is very generally agreeable, but not earth-shattering. Coryell’s own “BB Blues” continues to offer workmanlike performances that pull the listener in, but fail to completely satisfy. Coryell is more adept at playing blues and offers more blues inflections than many fusion guitarists, so his ability to rock out on a blues is never really in question.
The group really hits its stride on the third track, a well-arranged version of the Miles Davis chestnut “So What.” The track has been done to death, but Bailey’s rendition of the melody, lighter and cleaner than most bassists are able to manage, is well-served by Coryell’s brief interjections. This track really works up the sparks, and the group continues to amaze with a languid version of “Sex Machine” on which Coryell loosens up, aided and abetted by some solid, dirty drumming from White. Sadly, the momentum flags on a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” on which the decision to swing the number turns out to be a mistake.
The trio is able to finish off nicely, offering a good version of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints.” “Born Under a Bad Sign” is also good, again largely due to Coryell’s way with the blues. Bailey’s “Lowblow” is a fast jazz number, and the group gets off what is likely its best performance here, bringing to mind the best work of the John Abercrombie/Dave Holland/Jack DeJohnette Gateway trio recordings. The closer is Coryell’s “Rhapsody and Blues,” which demonstrates Larry’s compositional abilities, his formidable guitar technique, and his way with a catchy melody. It provides the CD with a strong finish that will leave most listeners happy.
With the exception of a few mediocre tracks, Electric is a solid album that fans of Coryell, Bailey, and White will enjoy, as will fans of electric guitar, jazz fusion, and progressive rock. The recording was done with a single point microphone, with no overdubs, compressors, multitracking, or heavy mixing. It represents, as closely as possible, the live sounds of these musicians, and that sound is formidable. Still, there’s an air of restraint that doesn’t quite fit with the profiles of these talented musicians; perhaps they were still feeling each other out somewhat. There is word that this trio may record a followup, and they’ve been playing live quite a bit. Perhaps as they develop together as a trio, they will lose some of their inhibitions and start firing on all cylinders. In the meantime, Electric is a solid, pleasurable listening experience.