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

ECM 1092

The Gary Burton Quartet with Eberhard Weber

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.

<< Keith Jarrett: Staircase (ECM 1090/91)
>> Jan Garbarek: Dis (ECM 1093)

Gary Burton/Steve Swallow: Hotel Hello (ECM 1055)

ECM 1055 LP

Gary Burton
Steve Swallow
Hotel Hello

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.

<< Richard Beirach: Eon (ECM 1054)
>> Ralph Towner/Gary Burton: Matchbook (ECM 1056)

Steve Kuhn: Trance (ECM 1052)

ECM 1052

Steve Kuhn

Steve Kuhn piano, electric piano
Steve Swallow electric bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Sue Evans percussion
Recorded November 11/12, 1974 at Generation Sound Studios, New York
Engineer: Tony May
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Perhaps no one on the ECM roster, other than Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, has as enlightened an understanding of the keyboard as Steve Kuhn. His debut album for the label only grows profounder with age. The elegant title track says it all: a trance of epic proportions etched into a set of almost impossibly modest length. Its prominent bass line lays down an airy ostinato, through which Kuhn digs straight into the album’s molten interior. The tender Fender in “A Change Of Face” lulls us into thinking we’re in for another methodical number, opening instead into some blazing percussive interplay between Steve Swallow and Jack DeJohnette. “Squirt” begins and ends with the same staccato declarations, strung together by a continual stream of sustain-pedaled galaxies and brightened by Sue Evans’s always-colorful accents. “The Sandhouse” rolls along the keyboard, collecting debris as it gathers speed toward the hip electric style of “Something Everywhere.” Kuhn lets Swallow do most of the talking here, taking charge only briefly through a series of quick key changes, all while DeJohnette keeps up his end of the bargain and then some. “Silver” is the only piano solo and shows Kuhn at his lyrical best, which hones the raunchy “The Young Blade” into an even darker edge. Kuhn plays us out with “Life’s Backward Glance,” a curious metaphysical experiment in which he intones: “It was a dark and stormy night at sea. The captain called his men on deck and said, ‘Men, I have a story to tell.’ And this is the story he told. It was a dark and stormy night at sea. The captain called his men on deck and said, ‘Men, I have a story to tell.’ And this is the story he told.” The mise-en-abyme of this tale only serves to analogize the haunting enigma of his craft.

An historic example of Kuhn’s lush, romantic style, Trance speaks of something beyond the realm of even the most intense study; beyond the possibilities of unchecked ability, technical prowess, and sheer finesse. It is a journey that has been faithfully recorded for all its hardships and triumphs alike. Kuhn fills every space with something fresh and palpable, allowing us total freedom in the listening.

<< The Gary Burton Quintet with Eberhard Weber: Ring (ECM 1051)
>> Michael Naura: Vanessa (ECM 1053)

Gary Burton: Seven Songs For Quartet And Chamber Orchestra (ECM 1040)

1040 X

Gary Burton
Seven Songs For Quartet And Chamber Orchestra

Gary Burton vibraharp
Michael Goodrick guitar
Steve Swallow bass
Ted Seibs drums
NDR-Symphony Orchestra
Michael Gibbs conductor
Recorded December 1973 in Hamburg
Engineer: H. Ruete
Produced by Manfred Eicher

If one were to draw a line between the ensemble aesthetics of Eberhard Weber and Keith Jarrett, then one might plot the compositions of orchestral jazz legend Mike Gibbs somewhere along the way. Born in 1937 in what was then Southern Rhodesia, and a graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Gibbs has laid down a musical path as diverse as his travels. On Seven Songs for Chamber Orchestra, one gains vision of a mind looking not so much to cross over into uncharted waters as to expand the inclusivity of jazz’s already broad topography. At the heart of this project is Gibbs’s most famous student, the inimitable Gary Burton, who presents a lovingly realized program of his mentor’s own design. “Nocturne Vulgaire” sets the album’s plaintive tone with a groundswell of strings, into which Burton drops his mercurial sound. This delicate blend of mallets and bows continues unabated in “Arise, Her Eyes” (Steve Swallow), the only non-Gibbs number on the album. Mick Goodrick’s steady strums and Ted Seibs’s cymbal-heavy drumming make the most of the tender “Throb,” as Burton’s vibes glow like phosphorescent blood in the piece’s ambulatory body. “By Way Of A Preface” spins the album’s densest song. Its abstract beginnings carry over into a gorgeously perpetual solo from Goodrick, while Swallow makes his memorable mark in the pensive confines of “Phases.” The vast open fields that underlie “The Rain Before It Falls” give way to the chromatic wonders of “Three,” in which Burton and Goodrick’s relays emerge with all the inevitability of a final word.

This is a dream album for admirers of both Burton and Weber, combining as it does the former’s dulcet precision and the latter’s lush arrangements, and is therefore well worth tracking down (a CD-reissue is long overdue). Burton’s ability to carry a tune to fruition is only enhanced by Gibbs’s affected settings, which hardly make a dent in their emotional reserves. If jazz is about discovering the integrity of every lifted voice, then certainly Seven Songs rises from its murky waters with just a few of many unheard treasures.

<< Dave Liebman: Lookout Farm (ECM 1039)
>> Jan Garbarek: Witchi-Tai-To (ECM 1041)

The Gary Burton Quintet with Eberhard Weber: Ring (ECM 1051)

1051 X

Gary Burton Quintet
with Eberhard Weber

Gary Burton vibraharp
Mick Goodrick guitar
Pat Metheny guitars
Steve Swallow bass guitar
Bob Moses percussion
Eberhard Weber bass
Recorded July 23 and 24, 1974 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Before I get into this review, I’d like to take a moment to share my process:

As a busy grad student, listening to music for pleasure has become an increasingly difficult luxury to sustain with any regularity. In addition to my undying adoration for ECM, one major part of my motivation for starting this blog was a desire to reinvigorate my listening life. To that end, I have taken to giving one album per night my undivided attention as I go to sleep. I keep a digital voice recorder by my bed and speak whatever impressions come to mind. I then transcribe these comments the following morning and pare them down to something coherent. Any of my regular readers will notice that my review production has slowed down as of late. This is due to the fact that I have been preparing for my M.A. thesis defense and am heavily sleep-deprived as a result. Even so, I have attempted to listen when I can and continue with my audio review logs. Due to the aforementioned sleep deprivation, however, fatigue has begun to take its toll on my cognizance. This became especially apparent as I was recording my review for Ring. It began benignly enough with my usual laudatory ramblings, but as I sat down the following morning to transcribe, I realized that I had almost no recollection of the second half of what I had said, having uttered it in a stupor of half-sleep. I have since removed the odder bits, but would like to share a few verbatim examples for your (and my) amusement:

One almost feels or gets the sense of joy, for in that concept of joy there are also children…. There are clouds and unwashed apples and trees floating in the sky…. Next year it will be different, somehow pleased by the authorities while people such as I will be behind bars…

Whether or not these comments impart any deep insight into the music at hand might very well be arbitrary. Still, I cannot imagine having said such things without some sort of provocation. This experience makes me question what kind of background noise I must be filtering out before coming up with anything at all intelligible. Thank you for indulging this tangent and, for what it’s worth, here’s my highly filtered version:

Gary Burton is in a class all his own. On the vibraharp he is pliant yet unbreakable with a certain flair for the understatedly powerful. Among the present company, he is perfectly at ease. No one tries to overpower him, and despite his melodic dominance he never looms for too long, receding into as many shadows as he casts. There’s not a single pretentious note to be heard; the flow between and within tracks barters its way across smooth waters. This is a nocturnal album all the way.

In the opening “Mevlevia,” flanged guitar provides a yielding current of sound upon which Burton and Weber are able to lie back and drift. “Unfinished Sympathy” is more than just a clever play on words, but is also a gorgeous vehicle for Goodrick’s rolling solos. Its structure is built around a recurring guitar motif, which indeed feels unfinished as it circles around a flower it can never pollinate. It is a short and sweet diversion into a vaguely grasped thought. “Tunnel Of Love” is a languid journey toward something that is apprently fated but which is actually uncertain. A warm bass solo arises from the murky surface that surrounds us, threading our path with its own braided thread. A lilting guitar in the background plucks steady notes from the air, balancing them atop slowly rolling spheres. “Intrude” begins with a drum solo that flitters like a dragonfly skirting the edge of its known domain. A certain jouissance works its way from the outside in before petering out into the last few drops of cymbal, at which point the ensemble kicks in with a six-stringed groove tugged along by bass and the now recumbent drums. The delicacy from before is implicitly maintained, even as the static builds in charge, at last defused by a premature spark. “Silent Spring” feels like the most composed piece in this set, and in that sense it refuses to take its own simple pleasures for granted. The bass flickers its way into recognition like a blown-out candle in reverse, telling what it knows to be untrue, a musical fabrication in disguise. “The Colors of Chloë” produces another superb bass solo in the midst of a first-rate groove, which seems to climb up and down stairs before settling on the black and the white of its own private chessboard.

In short: listen to this album and love it.

<< Keith Jarrett: Belonging (ECM 1050)
>> Steve Kuhn: Trance (ECM 1052)