Popular musical movements can sometimes be so compelling that they affect all other forms of music around them. In the 1950s, rock 'n' roll changed the landscape for most country music and gave birth to such 'new' styles as skiffle. During the progressive rock age from the late 60s to early 70s, other genres were so marked by the musical and commercial changes of the era that they developed hybrid offshoots with true hybrid names folk-rock, classical rock and jazz-rock.
At the time, these fusions were generally dismissed by critics, even when loved by fans: for the musical commentators, jazz-rock was 'too loud', 'over simplistic', the musicians 'played too many notes and too fast' and the sound 'lacked the tonal poise of acoustic jazz'. Some of this criticism was essentially sound but a lot of it took no account of individual skill and imagination.
Keyboard player Herbie Hancock is one such exceptional talent whose legacy has stood the test of time in the jazz-rock arena. Guitarist Larry Coryell is another. After working with vibraphonist Gary Burton on such seminal recordings as "Duster" and "Lofty Fake Anagram" (both RCA), Coryell began a series of albums on Vanguard that would draw on an extremely broad palette of rock and jazz colours to produce arguably the most satisfying of fusion repertoires.
IMPROVISATIONS is a double CD collection that assembles work from his time with the label covering the years 1968 to 1979. The album title indicates that this compilation is orientated more towards the jazz end of Coryell's catalogue rather than the rock, even so this distinction is much more about approach rather than sound or instrumental line-up. Accompanying the guitarist, in various combinations, are some of the seriously great modern jazz musicians of the past 40-something years Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison, John McLaughlin, Alphonse Mouzon, Miroslav Vitous, Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, Randy Brecker, Mike Mandel, Steve Marcus, Jim Pepper and Ron Carter, to name just a few.
Aside from the diversity of settings, Coryell remains the true jazz artist by virtue of his improvisational ability and deep-rooted blues playing ("if you listen to me carefully" he told author Joachim Berendt "it must come through that I'm from Texas"). In Coryell's (at times) dense, funky blues lines lies the perfect bridge between the musics of John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix. 1968's Stiffneck, a duet with Coltrane drummer Elvin Jones, is a perfect example of this stylistic collision but, from a year later, it is The Jam With Albert, a thunderous, rumbling and roaring adventure with former Charles Lloyd bassist Albert Stinson and drummer Bernard Purdie, that captures best the meltdown heat of those innovative years.
by JOHN CROSBY