When you spend over 40 years in the recording industry plucking a guitar, you might still feel up for a challenge or two. When you think about these challenges, you might seek some far-out and adventurous musicians for help. Or if you’re Larry Coryell, you go snag yourself the Wide Hive Players. The Wide Hive Players are professional, reliable, competent and static—not the most blitzkrieg combination of traits for a band backing up someone as distinguished as Coryell. Their strengths are their weaknesses, slipping into the Blues Brothers model of hired help. The two things that make Larry Coryell with the Wide Hive Players worth hearing are no big surprise: the songs that Larry Coryell writes and the way he plays his guitar. That may sound slight, but the album really does get more unique with each go-round, even if it won’t strike everyone as Coryell’s finest hour.
The overall vibe is easygoing, just a few shades away from frivolity. The seamless groove of “Terco” is almost too laidback to notice, as good as the tune is. “Return of the Shirtless” and “Honey Dijon” are comparatively grittier, piling on bricks of solid horns that give Coryell the comfort to show off. “Moose Knuckle” sounds strangely like its title, taking a friendly slant to a funk and acid jazz combination. It’s all memorable and melodic stuff, though the Wide Hive Players seem to settle for being just straight aces that don’t hit any wrong notes or bum rhythms.
The parts of Larry Coryell with the Wide Hive Players with muted volume still preserve the integrity of the tunes, even when the rhythm and horn sections remain plain and in the background. “The Last Drop” is one such treasure that ties sinewy keyboard and horn figures into something mostly sly and just a little bit catchy. However, “Tilden”, the album’s longest song, is a somber, complicated and stretched-out piece, the kind that plays so much with form that it doesn’t leave much of an overall impact. At least it has more to it than “December Blues”, a slow blues number that gives Coryell and the Wide Hive Players nothing to do other than indulge in clichés.
Larry Coryell is still a top guitar player. Though his style has been often mimicked over the years, this doesn’t change the impressive intricacies of “Moody on My Mind”, something best described as an acoustic dance. Though not technically impressive, the minor-key piano and guitar figure that gets opening number “Torchlight” rolling is a perfect example of beauty in simplicity. Coryell’s soloing speaks to the mood of the song, never really making a scene. The most interesting piece of guitar playing, “One for T.G.”, is saved for last. It has potential to confuse the listener, and Coryell’s rapid acoustic solo might do just that, since it is being tugged along modern, modal piano stock. It’s a stretch to even say that the thing actually resolves. It exits suddenly, like so many of the other songs on Larry Coryell with the Wide Hives do.
It’s an assured album, one that doesn’t make waves yet has a lot going for it in so many other areas. It won’t make anyone completely forget about those whacky Eleventh House days, but Larry Coryell with the Wide Hives has its small, subversive powers. The Wide Hive Players themselves don’t put a whole lot of blood on the line. So if Larry Coryell with the Wide Hives came out this decent, imagine if the band were to go for broke.