Saturday, May 6, 2017

Larry Coryell - 1970 [2006] "Spaces"

Spaces is Larry Coryell's third album as a leader. The album was released 1970 on the Vanguard label featuring John McLaughlin on guitar, Chick Corea on electric piano, Miroslav Vitouš on bass and Billy Cobham on drums. The album was produced by Daniel Weiss and engineered by David Baker with assistance of Paul Berkowitz.
The album is sometimes considered to have started the jazz fusion genre.

This album features the pioneer fusion guitarist Larry Coryell with quite an all-star group. Two selections match Coryell with fellow guitarist John McLaughlin, bassist Miroslav Vitous (doubling on cello) and drummer Billy Cobham, all important fusion players at the time. "Rene's Theme" is a guitar duet with McLaughlin, while "Gloria's Steps" (a Scott LaFaro composition) has Coryell, Vitous and Cobham jamming as a trio. Chick Corea sits in on electric keyboard for "Chris," and the 20-second closer ("New Year's Day in Los Angeles -- 1968") finds Coryell playing alone. Overall, the music has its energetic moments, but also contains some lyricism often lacking in fusion of the mid-'70s. In addition, all of the musicians already had their own original voices, making Spaces a stimulating album worth searching for.

The origin of Spaces can be traced back to when Larry Coryell saw John McLaughlin performing at Count Basie's nightclub with the Tony Williams Lifetime ensemble. Apparently he was so impressed with what he heard, that he invited McLaughlin to join him in the studio and record what would turn out to be arguably one of the very first jazz-rock/jazz-fusion records made at that moment in time. Not that they would have known it. But as Bob Dylan sang, the times were indeed changing, and jazz-fusion, for better or worse, was beginning to emerge as a far more cerebral alternative to what were perceived as more basic forms of music, i.e. rock and roll. At the centre of all this controversy was the chief minister of Jazz himself, Miles Davis, whose own increasingly cosmic explorations were beginning to have a profound impact on how people not only heard music, but also what they thought was possible.

One thing's for sure, jazz-fusion can make for a pretty intense listen to the uninitiated, especially when what you're dealing with is a highly trained and disciplined bunch of brainy instrumentalists who loved nothing better than to mess with the listener's mind and overload it with lots of extraneous musical detail.

The album gets off to a terrific start with the title track, where Larry Coryell lays down some extremely jazzy, almost scientific guitar lines, while Miroslav Vitous pumps away busily on the bass. McLaughlin adds his own little bit of magic as well, to what is a supremely satisfying opener. "Rene's Theme" is a Django Reinhart inspired number, and it's a lot of fun hearing the two guitarists not only duel it out but enjoying themselves in the process. On "Gloria's Step" the whole band are once again in analytical mode, exploring all sorts of tones and arty modulations. Mind you there's probably not a lot going on here that wasn't explored already by plenty of jazz musicians back in the 1950's. The same goes with the Coryell penned "Wrong Is Right," a song which could have quite easily appeared on any Charlie Mingus album, with one exception: as if Coryell was saying 'I'm trying to expand your consciousness while explore your inner intestines with my guitar solo.'

Things become academic on "Chris," written by Coryell's wife as it so happens, where Chick Corea bleeps and bloops on the electric keyboard in his own inimitable way, while Larry gives the guitar scales a fine workout. The final track "New Year's Day In Los Angeles -1968" lasts for only twenty seconds, but is a delightful way of bringing the album to a close.

There can be no doubt that Spaces was a groundbreaking album in more ways than one. But by 1969/70 obviously something was in the water, as if all the fundamental elements of the musical universe had come together to create ever more complex atoms and molecules, which is what Jazz Fusion was -a creation of new worlds whose possibilities were seemingly endless as they were intricate, even if they do pose a question mark over the listener's head as to what it all means.

Generally seen as Larry Coryell's best-known work, this 1970 album has more than stood the test of time. Cut the year before with one of the richest line-ups you could imagine, it featured Larry playing alongside John McLaughlin on second guitar, Chick Corea on electric piano, Miroslav Vitous on bass and Billy Cobham on drums. “Spaces” was an apt title for, not only was it the title of the opening track, it also suggested the nature of the musical landscape on which the players were operating. In the best traditions of jazz, the material was structured for extension and improvisation, and gave them space to listen to each other and to play off each other. As the Rolling Stone review at the time put it, "Coryell generally delivers more rapid-fire strings of notes, while McLaughlin leaves more spaces and is perhaps more into texture, but each player jumps into the other’s most characteristic territory on numerous occasions." It is indeed the quick-fire interchanges between the two that really lift this album to the status it has always enjoyed, as each one picks up on the moods and feels generated by the other. They swap lines frenetically on Larry's own tune ‘Wrong Is Right’, sounding almost scattershot at times, though on the following track, ‘Chris’, it is their lyricism that leads the way on what is the most open-ended improvised piece here. Before these two they had delightfully re-created the feels and swing stylings of Django Reinhardt on the acoustic ‘Rene's Theme’, and gentler explorations on ‘Gloria's Step’ that also develop into a haunting vehicle for Miroslav Vitous on bass as he joins the improvisations.

Initially the album's tone had been set by ‘Spaces (Infinite)’, to give it its full credited title.  Here the musical themes are dramatically stated at the outset, with some comparatively grandiose melodic steps, but then the whole thing shifts gear as Larry's guitar begins to lead from the front, urging the others to follow and opens things up into new and more urgent territory. It signals the album as a challenge, and almost dares the listened to follow, with its exuberance ensuring that they will. It covers much ground in its nine minutes, with time shifts and spaces allowing mood changes that unsettle and excite the listener in equal measure. And then there follows the rest of the tracks that expand and extend these stimulating beginnings as the players swoop and move around each other in ways that are always unexpected. At the end, and as if to confirm the unexpected, the album signs off with a pretty though brief twenty-second run of guitar notes called ‘New Year's Day In Los Angeles 1968’, an effective and thoughtful coda to the album that would certainly have left the audience upbeat and wanting more, which indeed they got with ensuing Coryell albums, but this is the key point where it all started.

Tracks Listing

1. Spaces (Infinite) (9:21)
2. Rene`s Theme (4:12)
3. Gloria`s Step (4:31)
4. Wrong Is Right (9:02)
5. Chris (9:32)
6. New Year`s Day In LA, 1968 (0:22)

Bonus tracks on this 2006 CD reissue:

7. Tyrone (11:38)
8. Planet End (8:44)

Total time 57:22


- Larry Coryell / electric & acoustic guitars
- John McLaughlin / electric & acoustic guitars
- Chick Corea / electric piano (5)
- Miroslav Vitous / double bass
- Billy Cobham / drums


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Very good review!

    How do I get in touch with you about reviewing an album?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I normally don't review albums, I just find them on the web.
      There was an instance where Mateus Starling asked me to review his new CD in 2008 "Kairos", he sent it to me and I did as such, you can find it here :-)

  3. Thankyou very much!


  5. Muchas gracias, tenía ganas de volver a escuchar ese disco. ¡Gran aporte!