Larry Coryell Trio

Every time I think Larry Coryell has settled down, he proves me wrong. The guitar wizard’s most recent visit came on the heels of Spaces Revisited, a return to his early days playing rock and fusion with the Free Spirits and the Eleventh House. Last year he released Cause and Effect (Tone Center), a little-heralded and barely distributed date featuring former Journey drummer Steve Smith and onetime Santana keyboardist Tom Coster, who are also bandmates in the head-banging fusion squad Vital Information. Then, just days ago, he came out with Monk, Trane, Miles & Me (High Note), a hard-bopping set of standards played by a quintet starring pianist John Hicks and saxist Willie Williams–a return to the acoustic mainstream persona Coryell first adopted in the mid-80s. But to my mind the trio he leads this weekend is his best group–even though it exists only in Chicago and only every couple years, like some jazz version of Brigadoon. The band formed in 1992, when Coryell came to the Jazz Showcase and owner Joe Segal set him up with a pair of locals, bassist Larry Gray and drummer Paul Wertico. It’s an acoustic trio, but the absence of a piano encourages the freewheeling virtuosity of fusion–and it’s grown stronger in each of its four subsequent gigs. Wertico shares Coryell’s musical schizophrenia: he works in Pat Metheny’s group and leads one of the country’s best fusion trios (fronted by guitarist John Moulder), but regularly settles into straight jazz like Joe Sixpack into his favorite armchair. Gray can play anything for anyone, from classical to bebop to samba to hip-hop; here his sympathetic reflexes allow the other musicians to use his bass as a floating pivot. And Coryell remains one of the most emotional and emotionally satisfying guitarists of his generation, blessed with fiery technique but full of heart. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Bob Berg.