The Gary Burton Quartet with Eberhard Weber: Passengers (ECM 1092)

 

The Gary Burton Quartet with Eberhard Weber
Passengers

Gary Burton vibraharp
Pat Metheny guitar
Steve Swallow bass guitar
Dan Gottlieb drums
Eberhard Weber bass
Recorded November 1976 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Gary Burton’s Passengers has it all: its frontman’s incomparable mallets, Dan Gottlieb keeping the beat, the unmistakable bass of Eberhard Weber paired with the equally unique stylings of Steve Swallow, the fluid fingers of guitarist Pat Metheny (who would soon go on to front his own super group with Weber and Gottlieb), and the all-important bow of ECM’s attentive production. Not enough to whet your appetite? All the more reason to buy it.

Chick Corea’s “Sea Journey” opens with the floating exuberance that Burton carries off like no other. Weber pulls out all the stops here, proving to be perfect complement to Burton’s sound. A stunning piece of work with a heightened groove-oriented trajectory. This is followed by three Metheny compositions. In the subtle ballad “Nacada,” vibes rest on a gentle surface tension of flowing bass, guitar, and brushed drums. “The Whopper” locks into more upbeat strides. Weber’s bass is as bright and attractive as it gets, while Metheny’s solo dances on a pinhead. Listeners will recognize “B & G (Midwestern Nights Dream)” from his seminal Bright Size Life, its fractured rhythms maintained beautifully here. The quiet background supports a glowing solo from Weber, not to mention another from Metheny himself. “Yellow Fields” (Weber) is another exuberant number, and features the album’s most incredible vibe work. The bittersweet farewell of Swallow’s “Claude And Betty” contorts its hands in shadow puppets, backlit as if by a sad and lonesome dream.

Mindfully recorded and expertly executed, the melodies of Passengers come alive with unpretentious joy. The synthesis of players forms a palette in the truest sense, its colors already artfully arranged before they are ever mixed and applied to canvas. An essential addition to any Burton library, and a must-have for any Weber fan looking to complement his brooding, handsome meditations with something more uplifting.

Pat Metheny: Watercolors (ECM 1097)

Pat Metheny
Watercolors

Pat Metheny guitars
Lyle Mays piano
Eberhard Weber bass
Dan Gottlieb drums
Recorded February 1977 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

From the opening strains of Pat Metheny’s second album, we immediately know that we have a calming yet powerful journey ahead of us. The present company—among which keyboardist Lyle Mays, a Pet Metheny Group fixture, makes his first appearance—renders his characteristic combination of form and style into an instinctive wash of comfort. Mays’s pianism proves the perfect complement to the guitarist’s untainted sound. Just listen to the way he buoys the music in the opening title track, and his fluent solo in “River Quay,” and you will hardly be able to imagine the music without him. We get a lingering look at Metheny’s own abilities in “Icefire,” in which he solos on a cleverly tuned 12-string that lobs between solid chords and higher callings. Midway through, the music melts into its second titular half, flowering in a cluster of Ralph Towner-esque harmonics. “Oasis” introduces the harp guitar, a sympathetically strung instrument that shines in Metheny’s hands like the charango in Gustavo Santaolalla’s. A mournful electric sings at its center, ever shielded by an unrequited embrace of acoustics. Varied rhythms and bold chord changes animate its otherwise stagnant beauty. After these quiet submersions, we come up into air, and into light, with the beautiful “Lakes,” which positively glows with quiet ecstasies. Again, Mays broadens the edges to new waterlines, cresting like a wave that never crashes upon its thematic shores. A two-part suite proves a complex call and response with the self before the 10-minute “Sea Song” reprises the harp guitar for its swan song. The music here is beyond aquatic, and could easily have seeded a Ketil Bjørnstad project. Eberhard Weber’s smooth bass introduces the morning’s regular activities with the first rays of sunrise in countless awakening eyes, before rolling out once again, drawn back into the depths like the tide that gives them life.

Metheny’s precision dives and soars, a most selfless bird, his fingers running together like the colors of the album’s title. His supporting crew is in tune at every moment (and one mustn’t fail to praise Dan Gottlieb’s drumming in this regard), protecting every melody with passionate detail. This is perfect music for travel, for the music travels itself. It’s a plane ride above a shimmering landscape, a hang-glide over open valleys, a dive into crystal waters—and yet, our feet never leave the ground. One might call it otherworldly, were it not so firmly rooted in the earth in all its glory. Pure magic from start to finish.