Crystal Silence: The ECM Recordings 1972-79
Gary Burton vibraphone
Chick Corea piano
The vibraphone and piano combine to make one of jazz’s most potent instrumental combinations, and nowhere so invigorating than at the hands of Gary Burton and Chick Corea. To say that the possibilities between them are limitless is to ignore the immediacy of their abilities, in which we may now bask to the utmost content in this timely reissue. Jazz’s most singular duo in a set of three albums on four CDs. Now those are some positive integers.
Crystal Silence (ECM 1024)
Recorded November 6, 1972 at Arne Bendiksen Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
It all begins here, with Crystal Silence. The title says it all: silence crystallized into dazzling melodic gems, each its own prismatic doorway into improvisatory translucence. Corea offers a fine set of five compositions (the most notable being the slick opener “Señor Mouse”), along with three beautifully realized tunes by bassist Steve Swallow (“Arise, Her Eyes” being a personal favorite), and another by Mike Gibbs (the somber “Feelings And Things”). In spite of the variety of voices represented here, the album grows like one long, extended story, a dynamic that seems to shadow the musicians wherever they set foot. The title track, reprised and extended since its inaugural appearance on Return To Forever, is a subdued tour de force in style, presentation, and content. “Falling Grace” (Swallow) is one of the shorter pieces on tap, but what it lacks in time it makes up for in exhilaration. We end with an instrumental version of another Return classic, “What Game Shall We Play Today.” Each piece is rendered with such dynamic sensitivity that one can immediately recognize the effect Crystal Silence must have had when originally released, and no doubt continues to have to this day. Connected as they are by the same mellow fuse, these tunes need hardly a spark to set them to glowing.
This essential album constantly skirts the line between destitution and celebration, rebuilding as many structures as it tears down. The pianism soars, and one could never praise Burton enough for providing the intuitive right hand to Corea’s metronomic left. Above all, this is a masterful exhibition of improvisation around strong thematic material that breaks through its own generic conventions, and is another indispensable example of what ECM has done to enrich and enlarge the landscape of jazz music from day one.
Duet (ECM 1140)
Recorded October 23 – 25, 1978, at Delphian Foundation, Sheridan/Oregon
Engineer: Bernie Kirsh
Produced by Chick Corea and Gary Burton
If Crystal Silence is the Corea/Burton universe writ large, then the “Duet Suite” that opens this follow-up album is its densest galaxy. Buoyant grace, turn-on-a-dime syncopation, and an abiding sense of direction make every moment an experience to savor and relive as many times as a single lifetime will allow. More than a lasting mosaic of what either of these musicians is capable of, the suite overflows with so much energy that it could easily have gone on to fill the entire album. And in many ways, it does, being a meta-statement of all to come. The lovingly arranged selections from Corea’s Children’s Songs that follow expand fourfold the brief glimpse into this masterwork afforded us in the project’s debut. These otherwise intimate excursions sparkle like film stills sped into viable movement. The hip nostalgia of “Radio” (Swallow) plunges us into the past, even as it directs our eyes to the future, reeling through its motifs with head-tilting abandon. Burton’s staggered rhythms make for an ecstatic crosshatching of polyphony. At last, we come to Corea’s seminal “Song To Gayle.” Soon to be a staple in the outfit’s traveling songbook, this fluid conversation is almost blinding in its agreement. Duet is rounded out by the ever so exquisite “Never” (Swallow) and “La Fiesta,” a Corea original that brings the album’s most enthralling moments into focus.
In Concert, Zürich, October 28, 1979 (ECM 1182/83)
Recorded October 28, 1979 at Limmathaus, Zürich
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher
The Zürich live album is the clear standout of this collection and a real treasure among many in the ECM catalogue. All the classics are here, gloriously reincarnated for new and veteran listeners alike: a sweeping rendition of “Crystal Silence” flows with the power of a river during spring thaw, “Falling Grace” becomes strangely uplifting, “Song To Gayle” sparkles, and Corea’s improvisational turns during a vivacious “Señor Mouse” have all the makings of a hallmark triumph. These actually outdo themselves in live form, plain and simple. But they are only half the fun. Lest we forget the wealth of other material in the set, the duo delights us with “Bud Powell,” Corea’s pitch-perfect tribute to the bebop pioneer. The man at the piano can’t help but sing along as he negotiates one fluid key change after another. We also get some mesmerizing virtuosity from Burton, which makes us want to join in the applause at home. Another high point is “Endless Trouble, Endless Pleasure” (Swallow), which ends the show with a spicy half-step glory. But the real treasures here are the onetime C-Sides making their ECM digital debut at last. Each gives the respective musician his moment alone. Burton’s tender evocations of the Swallow standards “I’m Your Pal” and “Hullo, Bolinas” flit like a ballerina across the stage, while a lush 15-minute interpretation by Corea of his own “Love Castle” pulls his pianism into utterly new territories.
Live energy brings inexpressible wonder to these pieces. With each listen, they show their colors by an increasingly visible logic, extending solos here and shortening graces there, until the whole picture begins to make intuitive sense.
Once in a great while, there are combinations that simply cannot fail. Chick Corea and Gary Burton embody one of them. Their supporting articulations are sometimes so delicately applied that one cannot help but become an extension of the other. They seem to find in each other a new vision of life, which they bring to every note. They also really know how to introduce a piece. Rather than lead us patronizingly into their sound-world, they drop us directly into its liquid center, so that while coming up for air we begin to understand the music from the inside out. These are two wirewalkers at the height of their creative talents, yet who have since forgone their balance bars in favor of more airborne travels. This is quite simply music for the ages.