Recorded at the Philharmonie Berlin on January 24, 2017, during a series honoring duos, this live performance was guitarist Larry Coryell’s last—he passed away less than a month later in New York City. The gig reunited Coryell with Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine, whose relationship with the American went back to the late 1970s, when they played together at the same venue (Catherine guesting with Coryell’s Eleventh House group) and recorded a pair of studio albums and one live set (the latter also featuring pianist Joachim Kühn).
Four of The Last Call’s seven tunes feature Coryell and Catherine in a duo format—Coryell on acoustic guitar, Catherine on electric—followed by pairings of Catherine and pianist Jan Lundgren (Gershwin’s “Embraceable You”), and Coryell with bassist Lars Danielsson (Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove”), a real corker. For the finale, trumpeter Paolo Fresu joins the full ensemble for an extended take on the standard “On Green Dolphin Street.”
It’s telling that the sole full-band track, while opening up new avenues, loses some of the intimacy that characterizes the previous music, especially the guitar duets. Coryell and Catherine’s playing styles are markedly different—Coryell veers from tender to fiery seamlessly while Catherine prefers a more Django-esque approach, dramatic flourishes alternating with introspective musings. Yet they were wholly simpatico on these jams: At the most sublime moments, particularly during their entrancing reading of Luiz Bonfá and Antônio Maria’s “Manhã de Carnaval,” the guitars dance together organically. They might sometimes take divergent paths to assert themselves, but it’s never long before these two disciplined individualists are locked in once again.
Despite the quasi-letdown at the end, a listener can’t help but wonder what might’ve emerged had the full quintet found time to schedule a studio session as well.