Seeing guitarist Larry Corban with his burgundy Gibson L-5 archtop reminds me of the first time I heard a hollow-body guitar, back when I was a teenager. A good friend of mine was an avid guitarist, and for years he played on a Gibson SG–also burgundy. When he bought a second guitar, he was set on a hollow body Gibson for its unique sound. It hadn’t occurred to me that electric guitars could sound so different, but when he brought that new guitar home on that first day he played for me, and I was struck by that unique tone with those splendid new layers of depth.
On the cover of his new album, Emergence, Larry Corban poses with his L-5. If you go back into his catalog, you’ll see many more photos of that Gibson. He holds it like he never lets go, and he plays it the same exact way. Corban’s style is swift and precise, and he knows how to extract a perfect note, full of those unique hollow-body resonances, each and every time. On Emergence he’s playing with the Aperturistic Trio–bassist Harvie S, pianist James Weidman and drummer Steve Williams–a group of guys he’s been performing with since 2013. That makes for a tight and focused set, of course, although Corban has added a new element in the form of sax player Jerry Bergonzi. That opens up the sound on an already expansive recording, and the resulting quintet really swings.
“Let’s just start ripping,” Larry Corban recalls saying during the recording sessions, “let the volcano blow!” These aren’t wild and uncontrolled performances, however, but masterful turns from very experienced musicians. Corban is fond of what he calls “32nd note triplet land,” and the other four know just what that means. They don’t follow. They walk by Corban’s side, equally responsible for these complicated dance steps, which is obvious when you realize the magic doesn’t subside when Corban rests the L-5 on his knee and lets the others solo. That’s the mark of a quiet, encouraging leader, which always translates into a multi-layered sonic treat.
What makes Larry Corban such an intriguing and accomplished guitar picker is refinement. The identity of the Gibson L-5 is used as his foundation, and his appreciation of its unique sound can’t be overstated. But I’ve heard some guitarists use hollow-bodied guitars as a license to exaggerate those sonic differences, and they lose some of their technique doing so. Corban has taken a different tack by allowing the L-5 to inspire his play and not dictate it. If you love the sound of these Gibsons, Emergence is quite a treat–a study on how to do it right through an equal partnership between musician and instrument.