Before Miles Davis ever came up with "Bitches Brew" there was Count's Rock Band. Preceding Miles' electric shift by three years, Count's Rock Band paired saxophonist Steve Marcus and guitarist Larry Coryell. Count's Rock Band was arguably the first band to wed the creative improvisation of jazz with the structured rhythms of rock music. Coryell and Marcus recorded three albums to little fanfare and went their separate ways by the time "Bitches Brew" sent shock waves across the world of jazz. Coryell went on to explore jazz-rock with his band Eleventh House, while Marcus wound up in Buddy Rich's band, becoming one of Rich's most trusted band members.
Over thirty years later, the two are reunited due in large part to drummer Steve Smith, who played with both and only found out about Count's rock Band while reading a book called Jazz-Rock: A History. A chance encounter at a concert both Coryell and Marcus were playing set the wheels in motion. They both asked smith to play on and produce the record. The result is "Count's Jam Band: Reunion", an offering of mostly new tunes that finds Coryell and Marcus loosely playing with ideas they conceived over a generation ago.
It's a simple formula: Smith and John McLaughlin bassist Kai Eckhardt lay down an propulsive groove for Marcus and Coryell to lay out their ideas, but need be flexible enough to shift gears when the lead players give their musical cues. For the most part, it works. "Scotland" is a blistering opening number, with Marcus' soprano sax setting the tone for Coryell's electric guitar in a high-stakes game of improvised catch-is-catch-can. "Blues For Yoshiro Hattori", "Foreplay" and "Rhapsody & Blues" are remarkable contemporary jazz tunes. A cover of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" could've been left off the album, but it's a minor misstep.
The album's standout tracks are the two that don't feature the rhythm section. "Pedals and Suspensions" and "Ballad for Guitar and Soprano" find Coryell and Marcus beautifully complementing each other; on the latter song Marcus lays down beautiful counter-melodies to Coryell's nuanced chords on acoustic guitar. I get the sense that Coryell and Marcus had fun with the loose structure of this recording. If Count's Rock Band had been more than a footnote in the annals of jazz, they could've had a mighty legacy to live up to, which would've had them doubting themselves.