Monday, September 15, 2014

Larry Coryell-Steve Smith-Steve Marcus - 2001 "Count's Jam Band Reunion"

In the late '60s, guitarist Larry Coryell and soprano saxophonist Steve Marcus experimented with electric jazz together as Count's Jam Band before Coryell formed his own fusion band, The Eleventh House, and Marcus joined the Buddy Rich Band. The two of them found themselves working on a few of the same projects lately and decided to get together and record again as Count's Jam Band. For the reunion, the front men recruited drummer Steve Smith, bass guitarist and John McLaughlin sideman Kai Eckhardt and, on a few tunes, jam-bander and pianist Jeff Chimenti. But make no mistake: this project is all Coryell and Marcus. For the most part, the two front men look to Eckhardt for repetitive bass loops and to Smith for a constant barrage of backbeat, which they offer without complaint. Subsequently, Coryell and Marcus jump through the unison heads and solo for minutes on end, running up and down their respective instruments and keeping things at a wailing three-quarter burn throughout. Not surprisingly, the Count's Jam Band Reunion quickly becomes a tiresome event-especially on tunes like "Rhapsody and Blues," a coy fusion treatment of the sort-of referenced Gershwin composition.
The better moments on the album come when the band jettisons formula, as on "Pedals and Suspensions" and "Ballad for Guitar and Soprano," duets between an acoustic-playing Coryell and Marcus, and "Blues for Yoshiro Hattori," one of the few tunes that gives pianist Chimenti some space. On the all-out rockers, the occasional squeal doesn't cover up the saxophonist's gentlemanly attack, and Marcus, playing at a leisurely pace and with a touch of blues, sounds much more comfortable in the more relaxed settings.

First some background: Before fusion became popular in the early '70s, there was a community of musicians in NYC experimenting with jazz-rock in the mid- to late '60s. Two of the leaders of this movement were guitarist Coryell and a saxophonist known as Steve "The Count" Marcus. They documented these radical new ideas on two classic recordings made in 1967 and 1968 using the name Count's Rock Band. The two also collaborated on many of Coryell's later projects. They met up again in 1999, and decided to go at it again with drummer Steve Smith and bassist Kai Eckhardt. The music's not so radical anymore, since everyone's been through the fusion days, but the playing is incredible and as spirited as ever (musicians never seem to age, do they?). "Scotland" features a furious flurry of a melody testing the racing skills of Coryell and Marcus in tandem. "Reunion" features an off-meter percussion pattern and a push-and-pull interaction between Marcus' percussive soprano lines and Coryell's acoustic swirls. "Rhapsody in Blues" pays homage to Gershwin in a unique way, with the tandem jumping to and fro and overlapping each other and Smith banging away; they break for a lively piano solo by pianist Jeff Chimenti. "Blues for Yoshiro Hattori" shows off Marcus' wistful soprano skills, but is even more notable for its pulsing rhythm section. "Jammin' With the Count" is a crazy free for all that's best enjoyed by fans of these guys. Some of the other stuff will attract fusion curiosity seekers, but to get the full pleasure, you should know the history or be fans of the players in question.

Track listing:

1. Scotland (6:33) [Larry Coryell]
2. Reunion (9:55) [Kai Eckhardt]
3. Rhapsody & Blues (11:14) [Larry Coryell]
4. Pedals and Suspensions (5:52) [Larry Coryell]
5. Foreplay (8:09) [Larry Coryell]
6. Blues For Yoshihiro Hattori (6:48) [Larry Coryell]
7. Tomorrow Never Knows (12:45) [John Lennon, Paul McCartney]
8. Ballad For Guitar And Soprano (5:37) [Larry Coryell]
9. Jammin' With The Count (5:45) [Steve Marcus, Steve Smith, Kai Eckhardt]

(total time 73:01)


Larry Coryell: guitars
Steve Smith: drums
Steve Marcus: soprano saxophone
Kai Eckhardt: bass
Jeff Chimenti: piano (on 1,3,6,7)

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