Gary Burton vibraharp, organ, marimba
Steve Swallow bass, piano
Recorded May 13/14, 1974 at Aengus Studio, Fayville, Mass.
Engineer: John Nagy
Produced by Manfred Eicher
The stirring piano and vibes of “Chelsea Bells (For Hern)” open this long-forgotten jewel among ECM’s many fruitful duo recordings. Lithe and nocturnal, its only light can be found in the sourceless reflections of its watery surface. Herein lie the beginnings of a shaded affair that shelters the most distant promise of love. “Hotel Overture + Vamp” pairs vibes with a tight constituent of guitar, bass, and Fender Rhodes for a full sound honed in metal. Swallow assumes a dual identity in the title track, playing both bass and piano. We get the only “un-Swallowed” motif with Mike Gibbs’s “Inside In,” a short and sweet number complete with wah-wah infusions, plenty of changes to keep our ears in check, and some fantastic vibe work to boot. The quaintly titled “Domino Biscuit” is a pleasant segue to the prismatic mood and lyrical bass of “Vashkar.” The most moving piece on the album, it is vividly evocative and honed to a mysterious edge. “Sweet Henry” is a more upbeat, jovial affair, sounding almost like the theme song for a seventies television show sans kitsch (or perhaps with just enough kitsch to satisfy our morbid curiosity). The “Impromptu” that follows is a lovely meditation in which each instrument blends into the other in a swell of monochrome.
Hotel Hello is a unique entry in the Burton catalogue, for it is the only one that feels as if it were painted in black and white. What it lacks in vibrancy (no pun intended) of color, it makes up for, if not surpasses, in its visceral sentiment. We feel this most acutely in the final track, “Sweeping Up,” which faithfully evokes the cleanup that follows any given event, so that no matter how beautiful an experience it is, one is bid to appreciate its refuse.
This is a consistently solid effort and arousing in its many changes. Built on the raw materials of studio trickery, its overdubbed experiments speak to the revelry of both musicians. Burton solos in such a way that while his tone and sound do soar, they always remain firmly embedded and connected to the surrounding thematic motivations. Burton plays on at least three simultaneous levels: anticipating the next note while striking the current one, having already written it in his mind during the one just passed. Swallow is equally exacting and works with a no less expansive vocabulary.
This is an album about alienation and the promise of its demise.