On his fifth recording as a leader and third with the Aperturistic Trio (pianist James Weidman, bassist Harvie S, drummer Steve Williams), New York guitarist Larry Corban wields his burgundy Gibson L-5 with a blend of unabashed swing on uptempo burners and tender lyricism on relaxed ballads. This time out the core quartet is augmented by tenor sax titan Jerry Bergonzi, who elevates the proceedings with ferocious blowing on four tunes.
While listening to Emergence, keen ears might detect traces of Corban’s key influences — Pat Martino’s precision picking and driving lines, Larry Coryell’s audacious fusillades, Barney Kessel’s signature sweeping on solos. But Corban’s own voice rings out loud and clear in his rhythmic assuredness and daredevil solos on six fresh-sounding originals and two well-chosen covers here.
“I love the way this band swings and grooves and plays standards,” said the guitarist of the quartet’s indelible hookup. “And then with Jerry it almost went into this kind of mid-‘60s Blue Note era kind of vibe. In the studio it was like hearing Joe Henderson or John Coltrane in your headphones as you’re playing. And then the way these guys play, they can morph into whatever direction that’s happening in the moment. So this whole session was like, ‘OK, let’s just go where the music is.’”
The quintet comes out of the gate charging hard on the opener, Corban’s uptempo swinger, “Sea of Fire.” Harvie S fuels the groove with insistent walking bass lines while drummer Williams, a longtime sideman for the late, great singer-pianist Shirley Horn, lays down a persuasively swinging pulse. Weidman, an in-demand player on the NYC scene, most recently associated with Joe Lovano’s Us Five, pushes the harmonic envelope during his probing solo here. “Weidman keeps getting better and better,” says Corban. “He brought some different colors to the table that I hadn’t heard before. There’s a lot of juice in the tank with him.” Bergonzi, a legendary figure on the Boston jazz scene for decades, contributes a pulse-quickening solo and Corban follows with a flurry of angular notes that treads into the Sonny Greenwich-Dom Minasi zone.
“Table Steaks” is Bergonzi’s contrafact on Benny Golson’s oft-covered “Stablemates.” As Corban explains, “Jerry’s playing the melody and I got the trumpet part. When we initially did it in the studio I doubled the melody with him but then I thought it was cool to harmonize this tune, so I ended up overdubbing the trumpet part.” Corban solos first, heading straight for what he calls ‘32nd note triplet land.’ “My attitude here was, ‘Let’s just start ripping, let the volcano blow!’,” he says. “I just figured, ‘Hell, it’s Jerry Bergonzi! We’re not playing at a Holiday Inn, this is not a restaurant gig. This is my record, so let’s let’s have some fun.” Bergonzi takes that attitude to heart in his heroic solo here and Weidman follows suit with a tastefully swinging piano solo that enlivens the track.
For the mellow quartet number, “Observer Effect,” which floats in and out of a rubato feel and a vaguely bossa nova rhythm, Corban kicks on a touch of chorus to bring in a different color. Coming out of the head, Harvie S turns in an uncommonly melodic bass solo and Corban follows with an outstanding solo, double-timing nonchalantly while flashing potent chops with his trusted ax. Weidman responds with a cascading solo that showcases his expansive harmonic palette and refined taste.
Bergonzi returns on Harvie S’s hard-driving, darkly-hued modal number “Soon To Be,” which features the tenor saxophonist in all-out shred mode. Corban follows Bergonzi’s Herculean solo with a potent six-string excursion combining mondo chops and audacious sweep picking. Again, Weidman brings the piece to another level with his brilliant solo while Williams bashes with abandon over an ostinato at the tag.
On the album’s lone trio number, a gorgeous rendition of the minor key ballad “Never Let Me Go,” Corban engages in walking-on-eggshells sensitivity with the stellar rhythm tandem. Harvie opens the piece with a dramatic solo bass intro then carries the melancholy melody of this Livingston & Evans torch song from the 1956 film, The Scarlet Hour, before Corban enters with rich chordal work as Williams deftly underscores with brushes. “Steve can get so many great nuances with the brushes,” says Corban. “It’s no small coincidence that his website is abrushfire.com. He’s truly a brushes master.”
The bassist’s solo here is deep toned and facile. The guitarist follows the melodic contour of the piece on his solo while also nonchalantly double-timing and delivering exhilarating filigrees before Harvie S returns to take the melody out. “I like the idea of creating different moods,” says the leader. “It’s nice to completely change the palette by bringing in the trio to play a ballad and everybody kind of rests until the thing percolates again.”
Things do percolate on Corban’s uptempo burner, “On the Fly,” which is fueled by Harvie’s urgent walking bass lines, Williams’ brisk spang-a-lang on the ride cymbal and Weidman’s forceful comping. The Gonz goes ballistic here, stretching into the stratosphere, while Corban contributes another fleet-fingered solo to the heightened proceedings.
Williams sets a dramatic tone with mallets, cymbals and brushes on Corban’s gently ruminative ballad “Non-Determinism,” which has Harvie S exploring freely and contrapuntally around Weidman’s lush chords and Corban’s patient single-note lines. The guitarist kicks on his chorus pedal on this evocative number. “It’s just to give it some contrast and loosen up the dynamic,” he explains, “just like putting on a little makeup here or there.” Weidman once again pulls things together with his spacious, unhurried approach to comping and his array of chordal colors. “That’s the effect of having somebody like James who can just come up with the right chord and the right color and vibe with what’s happening,” says Corban. “I don’t know who else could’ve come up with what James came up with on this track. Maybe Herbie Hancock, but he wasn’t available for the session.”
They close it out in incendiary fashion with an uptempo quartet rendition of the Schwartz-Dietz standard “You and the Night and the Music.” The leader pulls out his finest Martino-influenced licks here while also sweeping with impunity on his solo. Weidman is in his best straight ahead mode here, swinging in the old school tradition of his stylistic elders like Kenny Barron, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris and Mulgrew Miller. The piece culminates in some boppish trading of eights with drummer Williams that further reveals their straight ahead roots.
“Playing with this band feels like I’m playing with the Beatles of jazz,” says Corban of his seasoned sidemen on Emergence. “Everything is just killing with these guys. The CD is just jumping right out of your speakers the whole time. And I think that’s a product of having a real band vibe.”
The fact that the Aperturistic Trio has been a working unit since 2013 and that Corban has recorded three times with the group accounts for the remarkable chemistry heard on Emergence. Add Bergonzi to that recipe, stand back and let the sparks fly. — Bill Milkowski
Bill Milkowski is a longtime contributor to Downbeat magazine. He is also the author of “JACO: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius” and co-author of “Here And Now: The Autobiography of Pat Martino.”