On the long and winding career path of guitarist Larry Coryell, there’s still no straightaway in sight. His previous three albums tackled Brazil and smooth jazz; on the recent Spaces Revisited (Shanachie) he reunited with old friend and archetypal jazz-rock drummer Billy Cobham for a return to the big bang of his fusion years. Those were good years for Coryell, who started out as a rocker and worked in the Free Spirits to help pioneer fusion from the rock side; in 1967 he joined vibraphonist Gary Burton’s quartet to record the first true jazz fusion album, Duster, recently released on CD for the first time by Koch. Coryell’s own original Spaces record, also from 1967, and subsequently his time as the head of the splashy jazz-rock band Eleventh House, allowed him to almost completely unshackle his extravagant improvisatory sensibilities. But for all that, he’ll play next week at Jazz Showcase–where you’d better be some kinda nuclear physicist to even mention fusion–leading a sparse, low-amplification trio that just might be his best band in a decade. When Coryell first hooked up with Chicago bassist Larry Gray and drummer Paul Wertico, for an engagement at the same venue several years ago, he admitted he didn’t know what to expect. By week’s end he was talking about taking the locals on the road, or at least into a recording studio. While he’s yet to do either, Coryell’s return visits have fine-tuned that lineup into an unusually powerful musical engine–fast and tough, with intuitive commentary by the rhythm players and enough familiarity with rock ‘n’ roll to harness its energy without succumbing to its monotony. The open format of this pianoless trio also allows you to fully apprehend Coryell’s lightninglike solos, in which his thoughts only occasionally outstrip his fingers. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, December 12 and 13, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, December 14, 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.