Gary Burton Quintet: Dreams So Real (ECM 1072)

 

Gary Burton Quintet
Dreams So Real – Music of Carla Bley

Gary Burton vibraphone
Mick Goodrick guitar
Pat Metheny electric 12-string guitar
Steve Swallow bass
Bob Moses drums
Recorded December 1975, Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Gary Burton is one of those rare artists whose sound is immediately recognizable, yet who always manages to surprise and delight with his commitment to personal transformation. He is an artist of metamorphosis and of acknowledgment. Like Keith Jarrett, even at his most selfless moments he places each note as one would an important relic on an altar, such that his transitions from improvised to thematic material are hardly noticeable in the grander scheme of things. Fold into this batter of this already delectable recipe the music of Carla Bley, and you get an irresistible cake layered with energy and melody. We see this right away in the title opener, which spreads a thin layer of frosting over this metaphorical confection. “Ictus / Syndrome” plays with the frantic jumps at which Burton is so skilled, beautifully accented by Pat Metheny’s electric 12-string. The tender vibraphone solo of “Jesus Maria” cradles the heart with its song, priming us for the gorgeousness that is “Vox Humana,” one of Bley’s crowning statements and interpreted here to perfection. After a modicum of resistance, the aptly titled “Doctor” heals the weary mind like good medicine. Burton shows off more fractured skills here, while Metheny swings in his virtuosic hammock. In spite of its title, “Intermission Music” is hardly a throwaway soundtrack to your break from more important activities. It is, rather, a beautiful flight into melodic skies, a lasting homage to the cinematic screen when it was still silver.

Bley’s tunes, with their chameleonic flair and peerless sense of forward motion, challenge any performer to be at his or her best. With this recording, the present assembly did much more than that by enlivening the music for an unsuspecting audience. As one of her most ardent champions, Burton has taken the soulful sounds of this one-time struggling waitress into that coveted place in our hearts where it belongs. Like skillfully sustained notes on a bowed instrument, Bley’s compositions are drawn in tight circles rather than in straight lines. Burton articulates every nuance, crossing dimensions with the ease of breathing. Metheny and mentor Goodrick are two leaves on the same stalk, each bowing to the wind to let sunlight peek through. Swallow’s presence is tender yet always palpable. And the attentive skills of Bob Moses shine at every rhythmic turn. While each of these musicians is easily spotted in any auditory congregation, they are immeasurably impressive as a collective unit. The album is recorded with ECM’s usual attentiveness, the vibes comfortably embracing the listener from both channels. Bley changed the landscape of jazz, quietly and one vamp at a time. And yet, hers a sound to which many have turned a deaf ear. One could hardly ask for a better wakeup call.

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