With director Daniel E. Meza’s liner notes touting Larry Coryell as “one of the greatest guitarists of all time, if not the greatest,” and an introductory quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes about the difficulty of recognizing genius, it’s easy to approach A Retrospective with some skepticism. But then Coryell launches into the bluesy, Jimi Hendrix-inspired “After Later,” and the hype suddenly comes into focus.
As Coryell points out in his recent autobiography, Improvising: My Life in Music, his drug abuse may be the primary reason he didn’t join the ranks of Hendrix, John McLaughlin and Eric Clapton in the 1960s. Son Julian Coryell (who plays rhythm guitar on the DVD) chastises Rolling Stone for not naming his father among such luminaries within its “100 Greatest Guitarists,” but this retrospective succeeds the most when the elder Coryell lets his guitar speak for him.
“Souls Dirge” is another Hendrixian trio piece with bassist John Hart and ace drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, and only meanders when Coryell sings (something else he’d be wise to let his guitar do for him). Another underrated guitarist, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, admirably trades solos with Coryell on the self-described “Slow Blues.” Hidalgo fares better as a guest than Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine, who plays a few awkward notes during the brief instrumental “Beautiful Woman.”
The rest of the live performances include rock, jazz, blues and funk, underscoring the fact that Coryell can—and has—seemingly played every style throughout his 40-year recording career. Perhaps that ambidexterity is another reason the 64-year-old never got his total due as a jazz player. Fly-on-the-wall camera angles capture rehearsals and interviews throughout the concert disc, making the more-of-the-same bonus disc unnecessary. But this retrospective offers an accurate representation of Coryell’s wide-ranging legacy, however undervalued.