Gary Burton: Selected Recordings (:rarum 4)


Gary Burton
Selected Recordings
Release date: April 29, 2002

In light of Chick Corea’s selected recordings, which included his classic duets with Gary Burton, the logic of association brings the latter into the spotlight in this fourth installment of ECM’s :rarum series. The vibraphonist’s career spanned a gamut of watershed moments in the 1970s and 80s, starting with The New Quartet of 1973. This evocative band with guitarist Mick Goodrick, bassist Abraham Laboriel, and drummer Harry Blazer renders Michael Gibbs’s “Four Or Less” as if it were an etude for the waking mind. Burton’s sound, here and throughout the compilation, is a force of connection—not only between the notes he is creating but also between the musicians at his side. A year later, Ring brought together his quintet with Eberhard Weber, interpreting the bassist’s own “The Colours Of Chloë” through the artistry of then-newcomer guitarist Pat Metheny, whose own “B & G (Midwestern Nights Dream)” graced the set list of the 1977 follow-up, Passengers.

In 1976, the quintet proper dealt a royal flush with its all-Carla Bley session Dreams So Real, of which the montage of “Ictus / Syndrome / Wrong Key Donkey” showcases Metheny’s electric 12-string and the bassing of Steve Swallow around Burton’s fiery expositions. Burton’s revamped quintet, now with Tommy Smith on tenor saxophone, drummer Martin Richards, and pianist Makoto Ozone, gives us Ozone’s “La Divetta” as heard on 1987’s Whiz Kids. Creating an atmosphere just humid enough to keep us feeling refreshed without being overwhelmed, Ozone shines in the ECM engineering foreground.

The Gary Burton Quartet fills in the remaining gaps of this collection. Between the late-night altoism of Jim Odgren in “Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love” (Charles Mingus) from 1982’s Picture This and the marimba-licious tropicalism of “Ladies In Mercedes” (Steve Swallow) from 1985’s Real Life Hits, Burton’s colors are those of rain-slicked streets: blurred yet unmistakable in what they reflect.

Gary Burton: Works


Gary Burton
Release date: April 1, 1984

Vibraphonist Gary Burton, one of the defining voices of ECM’s formative years, is worthily honored in this second “Works” series installment. His contributions as virtuoso and interpreter of the instrument are unparalleled, and on ECM both aspects of his career found ample space in which to flourish. This particular era of the 1970s, which followed his RCA blitz, showed him also to be a musician of great patience, as on The New Quartet. The 1973 classic dropped him into a studio with guitarist Mick Goodrick, bassist Abraham Laboriel, and drummer Harry Blazer for a set as gorgeously played as it was conceived. From it we are treated to Keith Jarrett’s “Coral,” of which every spindly leaf is accounted for, and Carla Bley’s “Olhos De Gato,” which waters a groove that is laid back but never subdued. Those chamber sensibilities give way to more luscious details in “Vox Humana,” another Bley tune that references 1976’s quintet outing, Dreams So Real.

While Burton was quick to expound at length on any given theme, he also gave his bandmates room to breathe. This was especially true of 1974’s Ring, for which the quintet was augmented by bassist Eberhard Weber. From that album we are afforded “Tunnel Of Love.” Burton’s pitch-bending adds a degree of physicality to this nostalgic slice of life by Michael Gibbs. The third of 1974’s Seven Songs For Quartet And Chamber Orchestra is another master class in delayed gratification and defers to the bassing of Steve Swallow.

The remainder of this compilation features the deeper integrations of Burton’s duo projects. His highest achievement in this regard, 1973’s Crystal Silence, pairs him with pianist Chick Corea. The track chosen to represent it, “Desert Air,” is a springboard for some of the most virtuosic finishing of sentences one is likely to encounter in such a collaboration. Another duo project with Ralph Towner, 1975’s Matchbook, yields the title track, in which percussive impulses from the guitarist clear the road for an unimpeded ride over flatlands. And on “Chelsea Bells” and “Domino Biscuit” (Hotel Hello, 1975), both by Swallow, the composer joins Burton on piano with touches both anthemic and gospel-esque. All of which leaves us with an abridged version of an oeuvre steeped in timeless energy. A gift that keeps on giving, decades later.

Gary Burton Quartet: Real Life Hits (ECM 1293)

Gary Burton Quartet
Real Life Hits

Gary Burton vibes, marimba
Makoto Ozone piano
Steve Swallow bass guitar
Mike Hyman drums
Recorded November 1984 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Vibraphonist Gary Burton was one of the hottest things around in the 1980s, his quartet a springboard for up-and-comers like Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone, who shines alongside bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Mike Hyman as if he’d grown up with the guys. A sparkling talent, Ozone adds color where there is only monochrome, and vice versa. He is at once ethereal and down to earth, emotes with a sweeping grandeur yet regales us with his intimacy at the keyboard. The syncopations he adds to the album’s two Carla Bley tunes are head-on wondrous. These include the complex title number, with its deft interweaving of vibes and keys, and the sprightly “Syndrome.” Like its eponym, this opener is an inescapable groove of activity, a fiery yet clean spring to concerted action. Swallow is in his usual leapfrog mode here, jumping from one palette of energy to another with ease. Ozone also grounds us deeper than we’d ever expect in the bassist’s “Ladies In Mercedes,” a groovy montuno exercise that features marimba in place of vibes.  Burton makes the normally muted instrument sparkle with his pointillism, which also boggles us with its precision in German Lukyanov’s “Ivanushka Durachok” (a rare dip into Russian jazz). With its catchy bass line and effervescent vibes, this piano-driven head nod is right where you want to be. Three slices of nostalgia round out the set, including the gorgeous seesaw of Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine” and John Scofield’s “The Beatles” (John Scofield). These quiet vessels carry us into the waters of Ozone’s own balladic contribution, “I Need You Here.” Bubbling with Burton’s exceptional mallet work, this tearjerker hits us where it hurts.

This is yet another solid outing from Burton and company. Like the cover art, it is something of a collage that makes for a complete portrait of a time and place, a snapshot with a living soundtrack. This is real life.

<< Dave Holland Quintet: Seeds of Time (ECM 1292)
>> Jan Garbarek Group: It’s OK to listen to the gray voice (ECM 1294)

Gary Burton Quintet: Whiz Kids (ECM 1329)


Gary Burton Quintet
Whiz Kids

Gary Burton vibraphone, marimba
Makoto Ozone piano
Tommy Smith saxophone
Steve Swallow bass
Martin Richards drums
Recorded June 1986, Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This aptly titled date from the Gary Burton Quintet showcases two wunderkinds: saxophonist Tommy Smith and pianist Makoto Ozone. It was Chick Corea who recommended the up-and-coming Smith, just 18 at the time, as a Burton sideman. One year later, Smith was thrust into the ECM spotlight, bringing his robust tenor voicing to one of the finest outfits in the business. And speaking of Corea, one would be hard-pressed to find a more kindred spirit than Ozone, who at 25 was already a longtime phenom in his native Japan, and whose tutelage at Berklee led him to work with Burton.

These talents are showcased not only technically, but also compositionally. Smith leads the way with “The Last Clown.” This warm, nocturnal cityscape is the perfect appetizer for what’s in store. The space afforded to every musician is a testament to the group’s democratic flair. Those unmistakable vibes glisten like rain-slicked streets, Burton taking his sweet time to let every note sing, while Ozone deepens the proceedings with every key he touches. Yet the pianist shines brightest in his own two upbeat contributions. Of these, “La Divetta” shows the group at its finest and is honed to a formidable edge by Smith’s aerial attack and the breakneck pacing of drummer Martin Richards. The balance of Ozone’s “Yellow Fever” is invigorating to say the least. Burton shows off his mindboggling precision, as do Smith and Ozone, one cream to the other’s coffee. Both of these pay homage to Corea, whose tune “The Loop” caps off a diamond-solid set. A couple of rarities complete the picture. “Soulful Bill” is a lovely ballad that features an even lovelier bass line from Steve Swallow, who dances with his own quiet magic through a gallery of fine solos. And the mid-tempo “Cool Train” brings on the love tenfold, especially in its sweeping pianism, which here recalls Bruce Hornsby.

The themes on Whiz Kids are ripe, the playing even more so, and the recording pristine. This is a quintessential example of ECM’s tender side, perfect for those lazy afternoons during which dreaming is the best kind of travel. Sadly, this smooth-as-silk recording would mark the end of Burton’s 14-year run on ECM. All the more appropriate, then, that his selfless respect for new generations of talent should take center stage.

<< Jon Hassell: Power Spot (ECM 1327)
>> Paul Hindemith: Viola Sonatas (ECM 1330-32 NS)

Ralph Towner/Gary Burton: Slide Show (ECM 1306)

Slide Show

Ralph Towner classical and 12-string guitars
Gary Burton vibraphone, marimba
Recorded May 1985 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

When one thinks of pairing vibraphonist Gary Burton with another soloist, Chick Corea comes foremost to mind. Burton’s work with guitarist Ralph Towner could hardly be more different, for where the former configuration funnels into a colorful storm of activity, in the latter we find far more intimate gestures articulated in monochrome. Case in point: “Maelstrom,” which starts us on the inside, spinning on its edge like a coin teetering at the promise of rest. Towner is as delicate as ever, fitting his harmonic staircases into Burton’s Escherian architecture with ease. This piece also highlights Towner’s compositional talents, which make up eight of the album’s nine tracks (the only exception being the slice of sonic apple pie that is “Blue In Green”). Towner and Burton frequently swap roles (“Vessel” being one notable example) and do so with seamless charm. Between the waking dawn of “Innocenti,” which features a rare turn from Burton on marimba, and the flurried “Around The Bend,” there is plenty of range to delight and calm the senses in turn. In the latter vein, we have “Beneath An Evening Sky,” a canvas of hues as muted as its title would suggest. The combination of Towner’s twinkling 12-string and Burton’s “vibrant” aurora lures us into a life of fantasy, where “The Donkey Jamboree,” a jocular ditty comprised of slack guitar and marimba, gives us a taste of sand and sunlight. “Continental Breakfast” (compliments of the Hotel Hello?) keeps the energy going in a travelogue of morning train rides, while “Charlotte’s Tangle” loosens the seams of the sky above.

This follow-up to the duo’s 1975 Matchbook is every bit as lovely as its predecessor, only this time around the atmospheres are deeper, richer with detail. Worthy.

<< Gidon Kremer: Edition Lockenhaus Vols. 1 & 2 (ECM 1304/05 NS)
>> First House: Eréndira (ECM 1307)

Chick Corea/Gary Burton: Lyric Suite For Sextet (ECM 1260)

Chick Corea
Gary Burton
Lyric Suite For Sextet

Chick Corea piano
Gary Burton vibraharp
Ikwhan Bae violin
Carol Shive violin
Karen Dreyfus viola
Fred Sherry cello
Recorded September 1982 at Mad Hatter Studios, Los Angeles
Engineer: Bernie Kirsh
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The Lyric Suite for Sextet joins the unparalleled duo of Chick Corea and Gary Burton with string quartet for a combination soon to be repeated with the release of Hot House. Through an erratic and sometimes disjointed hall of mirrors, it explores a series of never quite fully formed ideas. The opening notes of this then unique collaboration create a thriving and exuberant sound that permeates every moment that follows. Burton’s liquid runs, especially in “Waltz” and in “Dreams,” bring forth all the music’s chambered revelry as Corea weaves nimbly through every sprung carnation left in his footfall. From the brief yet enthralling “Rollercoaster” to the ebullient “Finale,” feelings sweep us away, and are swept away by, their own intensity. But the album’s true colors come out in “Brasilia,” which opens with the gorgeous unfolding of Corea’s piano, slowly introducing water droplets of vibes and the firmer grounding of strings, which at last become a vital presence, interacting with the piano lines in a deeply internal conversation for the album’s tenderest moments. Corea’s delicacy is a wonder here.

As a concept album, the Lyric Suite is a classic to be sure, albeit one that’s difficult to put a finger on. Then again, perhaps that’s the point. And while the strings may seem a superfluous stroke alongside musicians already so lush (seeming to unify only in the album’s latter half), it is the expansiveness of vision and the infectious exuberance of the playing that may keep you returning on occasion to this curious little experiment.

<< Jan Garbarek Group: Wayfarer (ECM 1259)
>> Shankar: Vision (ECM 1261)

“A Confusion of Fusions” – Chick Corea/Gary Burton Live at Blue Note

Chick Corea and Gary Burton with the Harlem Quartet
Blue Note Jazz Club, New York City
Sunday, November 13
8:00 pm

Chick Corea piano
Gary Burton vibraphone
The Harlem Quartet
Ilmar Gavilan violin
Melissa White violin
Juan Miguel Hernandez viola
Paul Wiancko cello

Setting the stage

The year is 1959. A young Chick Corea, just out of high school and newly arrived in New York City, quits Columbia University after only one month and immerses himself in the City’s sixties Jazz scene, its second golden age. In the coming years he makes a name for himself, and his exuberant playing soon catches the ears of Miles Davis, Stan Getz, and many others. Jump to the 1972 Berlin Jazz Festival, where his fingers join the mallets of Gary Burton on record for the first time. So begins a musical partnership that has spun nothing but gloriousness ever since and brings us to 2011.

Burton and Corea

“The vibe is just conducive to making music,” says Corea of the Blue Note, a venue of personal choice for years, and where he now celebrates his 70th birthday with a month-long series of concerts. If anything, his flames burn brighter, bringing characteristic verve to every shade of his pianism: dynamic, utterly precise, and sparkling to the last drop. The Corea/Burton alignment is world-renowned, a boon to ECM and to the field as a whole for decades, and hopefully for decades yet.

The energy here at Blue Note is kept to a soft boil, every laugh seemingly exaggerated by anticipation. Tables are tightly packed, and one shares them with strangers, who by the end of the night leave their mark for having shared in such bliss. Our six-seat arrangement abuts the very front of the stage. It is my first time to this hallowed institution, and being in proximity to such avid Jazz fans, and to the music we’ve all come to witness, it feels good to be alive.

Tonight, Corea and Burton are joined by the Harlem (String) Quartet for a concert preview of their new Chamber Jazz collaboration, Hot House (due out on CD in February 2012). While on the surface this may seem like an unusual combination, in fact both Burton and Corea have already explored such crossovers. Burton was the first to do so when, after he and composer Samuel Barber had been toying with the idea for some time, he refashioned the mold with his Seven Songs For Quartet And Chamber Orchestra in 1973, then later with Corea himself on 1983’s Lyric Suite For Sextet and again on The New Crystal Silence (released 2008 on Concord). With such a varied palette from which to choose, the results promise to be extraordinary.

And indeed, extraordinary hardly begins to describe the sounds that wash over us once Corea and Burton take to the stage, made all the more so by the tasteful amplification and reverb. “Love Castle” kicks off the first of three duets, each a different glint from the same well-polished jewel. From chord one, we find ourselves wrapped in an expansive intimacy that only decades of collaborative playing can bring to bear. Burton is downright acrobatic on those gradated strips of metal and brings a cool fire to every lick he elicits from them. The duo takes a cue from Art Tatum in “Can’t We Be Friends.” Lush syncopations that would provide hours of head-scratching for many a frustrated player only give Burton further excuse to stretch his arms before applying his lightning runs to a crowd-pleasing rendition of “Eleanor Rigby,” in which Corea digs deep over a lithe ostinato.

Corea and Burton are both very personable, doing their utmost to make the crowd feel right at home between songs. Corea quips requisitely about cell phones and bids us to talk freely during the show as the Harlem Quartet makes its entrance. It is something of a dramatic one, as cellist Paul Wiancko navigates the narrow human corridor with his charge held carefully above our heads.

After a bit of tuning (more on this below), we’re off on two adventures from the aforementioned Lyric Suite. The quartet seems like a trampoline in “Overture,” sending piano and vibes flying into the neoclassical shades of “Waltz.” Here, Wiancko provides some welcome pizzicato on the way to a rosy finish. The quartet intros a shapely version of “’Round Midnight” as Corea jumps into the thematic deep end, leaving his partner to walk along the surface above. Last is a new Corea original entitled “Mozart Goes Dancing.” Burton’s flights are particularly noteworthy in this economical dialogue.

When both of these players perform, they appear so utterly focused on their task that one wonders how they connect so seamlessly. Corea’s answer: one need only serve the music and style will “take care of itself.” (This is exemplified in his penchant for conducting or clapping along from the bench whenever his hands aren’t on the keys.) Whatever the method behind their brilliance, it is the compatibility of their intentionality—the simple yet profound choice of where to place a note—that brands their synergy into the brain. They don’t so much trade places as constantly flit in and out of time, turning on a dime from supremely lyrical, almost elegiac passages, to head-nodding grooves. Such contrasts are like big bangs in miniature, each the potential for a new solar system of sound.

Harlem Quartet

And what of the Harlem Quartet? This seems to be the question of the night, for while these fresh-faced and spirited musicians clearly bring oodles of passion to the table, they are given little to work with in Corea’s often stilted arrangements. They are also, I feel, unfairly slighted by Corea and Burton’s last-minute encoring of the classic “La Fiesta,” which, though a powerful conclusion, keeps the faithful foursome on stage awkwardly for a good ten minutes while the two old-timers everyone has come to see weave their spell. (On that note, I strongly urge readers to hop on over to the Harlem Quartet’s homepage and take a gander at their many projects and inspiring commitment to outreach.)

There was, however, an unforgettable moment before the Lyric Suite selections commenced when, after taking their seats, the quartet took a minute or two for a tuning session. During this, Corea and strings spun some free improv that was, ironically, the most fruitful connection displayed between the two halves of the stage during the show, and perhaps territory they might explore in the future beyond the otherwise peripheral role assigned to them. Burton and Corea are such fully minded players already that one is hard-pressed to find any gaps in need of filling. How does one add more wind to a tempest?

In the end, the Corea/Burton experience, regardless of its augmentations, has never been at heart about blending idioms, but rather about exchanging them. In that exchange, one hears an ever-changing conversation, and we are lucky to have been a part of it on this balmy spring night. To walk through their sonic forests is to feel one’s feet on the earth, where soundtracks flitter through dusty, cobwebbed pathways of memory like Corea’s famous mouse. In traveling through these spaces, one finds the windows still crystal and silent, wiped clean from years of pressing our ears up against them.

Gary Burton Quartet: Picture This (ECM 1226)

ECM 1226

Gary Burton Quartet
Picture This

Gary Burton vibraharp
Jim Odgren alto saxophone
Steve Swallow bass guitar
Mike Hyman drums
Recorded January 1982 at Columbia Recording Studios, New York
Engineer: Stan Tonkel
Produced by Hans Wendl

As I listened to Picture This for the first time, spring had just begun, and the music could hardly have been more fitting. Like an animal emerging from hibernation, its joyous frolics resonate in heart and mind with equal wit. Burton’s breath of fresh air is easy on the ears, never bogging us down with overly intellectual presumptions. For this transient quartet, he finds himself fronting a trio comprised of Jim Odgren on alto sax, Steve Swallow on bass, and Mike Hyman on drums. The mingling throughout from the two leads makes for some evocative motives and adds a curl to every letter written.

Burton never ceases to captivate, for here is a musician who is so—if you will excuse the pun—vibrant on his own terms, yet allows balance to flourish wherever he may be. Take, for instance, this new spin on the Carla Bley classic “Dreams So Real,” on which his presence is so integral yet so unassuming that at times one hardly notices, providing as he does only those key anchors needed for Odgren’s lithe restraint, only to unleash a primary force when soloing. This is the first of a few dips into the work of Burton’s favorite composers. Another, even deeper, plunge comes in the form of “Waltz.” This spindly Chick Corea tune cycles through far more rhythmic variations than its rudimentary title would indicate, and also sports a leapfrogging solo from Swallow that is by far the album’s highlight. Swallow also makes fine work of “Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love” (Charles Mingus), where his lyrical sway is flexible enough to support both Burton’s superbly attenuated malleting and Odgren’s beautiful reed work. The latter makes a winner out of “Tanglewood ’63” and lends itself to the saxophonist’s own two offerings, “Tierra Del Fuego” and “Skylight,” both gifts of pure delight wrapped in bright melodic bows.

Burton has uncovered some of the most potent melodies in ECM’s dense and knotted trees. Every strike of his mallet is like a woodpecker, revealing that which only the most attuned ears can hear.

<< Dewey Redman Quartet: The Struggle Continues (ECM 1225)
>> Keith Jarrett: Concerts – Bregenz/München (ECM 1227-29)

Gary Burton Quartet: Easy As Pie (ECM 1184)

ECM 1184

The Gary Burton Quartet
Easy As Pie

Gary Burton vibraharp
Jim Odgren alto saxophone
Steve Swallow bass
Mike Hyman drums
Recorded June 1980 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Gary Burton’s involvement in any project guarantees smoothness and melodic robustness, and Easy As Pie is no less promising than one would expect from the mallet master. As the title may imply, the results are generally laid back, but ever virtuosic. From the first licks of “Reactionary Tango” (Carla Bley) we get a taste of the banquet about to be laid before us. Jim Odgren shines on reeds the pages of this developing story, snipping from them a string of paper dolls. As one is swept away by the strains of “Summer Band Camp” (Mick Goodrick)—a fantastic piece that first appeared on the composer’s In Pas(s)ing—one notices just how integral Odgren is to the overall sound. “Blame It On My Youth” (Oscar Levant) is emblematic of what Burton does so well, capturing moments and memories as if in snapshots of living sound. In this solo piece, he sews that feeling of nostalgia into every motivic cell of activity. And further in “Isfahan” (Strayhorn/Ellington), a smoky ballad with plenty of shadow in which to luxuriate unseen, Burton turns that shadow into liquid gold in the throes of his soloing. Just so this joint doesn’t weigh us down with too much dark energy, two Chick Corea tunes, “Tweek” and “Stardancer,” give us plenty of beat to chew on and highlight Steve Swallow’s unstoppable groove. Between the kaleidoscopic drum solo from Mike Hyman and Odgren’s storybook endings, there is more than enough color to go around.

The members of Burton’s quartet work like kilned clay, which must be scored before being fit together to survive the heat with which it is imbibed. If this is dinner jazz, then prepare to be stuffed.

<< Corea/Burton: In Concert, Zürich, October 28, 1979 (ECM 1182/83)
>> Miroslav Vitous Group: s/t (ECM 1185)