Monday, August 13, 2007

Guitar Trio

Super Guitar Trio: Larry Coryell, Al Di Meola, Biréli Lagrène
Live at Montreuz 1989
Eagle Eye Media

Larry Coryell has always had a certain kinship for his fellow guitar players. He has often teamed up with his colleagues to form all-star ensembles, and has written an instructional column for Guitar Player magazine since 1976, happily passing along his experience to others. It is not surprising to see him anchoring one such all-star trio for an acoustic set documented as Live at Montreux 1989.

Joining Coryell at Montreux were Al Di Meola, best known for his work with Chick Corea as part of Return to Forever and Biréli Lagrène, who was just then emerging as the next great guitarist in the gypsy jazz tradition. According to Di Meola the performance marked the finale of their five week tour, and the three had reached an impressive level of sympathetic compatibility.

The trio’s set was well served by their choice of material, with many Latin or gypsy influenced compositions that gave them an opportunity to display their dexterity. Coryell’s “PSP No. II” starts in a contemplative mood, but quickly morphs through several changes of mood and phase, giving all three ample opportunities to demonstrate their prowess. The camera work is impressive throughout the concert, capturing many close-ups of the trio’s fleet fingers.

Latin flavor is imported from Argentina, Brazil, and Spain, with the former represented by Astor Piazolla’s “Tango Suite (For Two Guitars),” as a feature for Coryell and Di Meola. Both clearly have a strong feeling for the piece. Piazolla’s music had long had great importance to Di Meola, and Coryell, who had begun interpreting composers like Ravel and Rimsky-Korsikoff in the 1980’s, also shows a strong affinity for the composition.

From Brazil, Laurindo Almeida’s “Braziliance” is another showcase for the full trio. Almeida’s lovely melody gets a respectful treatment in perhaps the briefest performance of the set. Two Chick Corea-penned Return to Forever tunes close the DVD: an up-tempo “No Mystery” and the appropriately Spanish tinged “Spain,” their designated encore piece.

For many, Lagrène was and may still be the surprise of the set. Although Coryell has his moments on “Musette De Paris Avec La Rue Dupierre No. 5,” it is really Lagrène feature spot, with the senior member of the trio sensitively supporting him. “Musette” and his solo performance following on “Waltz” are pretty impressive, showing how much Lagrène had absorbed and processed of the tradition at a relatively early point in his career.

Some purists might be skeptical of Coryell and Di Meola given their fusion pedigrees, but there is no denying the acoustic facility captured on film by all three trio members that night in 1989. One supposes if the concert had been performed in the 90’s instead of the late 80’s all three would be dressed in black, instead of white. That is about the only sense of it being dated, as the music certainly holds up well (particularly the compositions of Piazolla and Lagrène).