Larry Coryell: Variations on Good-Bye Pork Pie Hat

In 1969, Larry Coryell gathered together future fusion superstars John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Chick Corea and Miroslav Vitous to record Spaces. Released in 1970, the album was one of jazz-rock's landmark recordings. Within two years after its release, McLaughlin and Cobham were in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Chick Corea had founded Return to Forever, and Vitous was in the first incarnation of Weather Report. In 1973, Coryell formed his own fusion unit, the Eleventh House.

The original Spaces did not fully integrate the rock sound into its milieu. However, the energy generated provided more than a hint that true fusion music was just around the corner. It was all very exciting. It appeared that Coryell would be one of the new music's leading exponents. But personal problems and addictions haunted Coryell for many years. This unfortunate situation made it virtually impossible for him to be a consistent musician or to choose a career path and stick to it. Coryell speaks very openly of these problems in his autobiography, Improvising: My Life in Music.

"Variations on Good-Bye Pork Pie Hat" is quite varied. It begins as a slow swing with Cobham's cymbal work leading the rhythm. Then Cobham kicks the piece into an odd meter for some crafty guitar work. Variation #3 is a slow section featuring a series of tasty blues and jazz licks expertly performed by Coryell and Lagrčne. Bassist Bona is also a reliable contributor. The band falls-in to bring back the head arrangement to end yet another version of this ode to Lester Young. All in all, the tune is impressive and pleasing, if maybe a little too diverse.

Coryell is a wonderful and important jazz guitarist, and his personal problems seem to be a thing of the past. I'm still not sure he makes the right choices, though. Take the title of this album. Maybe his management suggested the name Spaces Revisited to lend it a little extra commercial appeal for fans of the original Spaces? Maybe it was Coryell himself. Either way, it was false advertising, which is too bad because this is a good straight-ahead jazz outing. But in no way does it resemble or even remotely refer to the earlier groundbreaking release. Many people were disappointed. The hook was that Billy Cobham and Larry are on both recordings. But please, where is John McLaughlin, Chick Corea or Miroslav? It is hard enough living up to high expectations. Why set yourself up for a fall by raising them yourself?

April 01, 2008 · 0 comments


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