Gary Burton – Take Another Look: A Career Retrospective – Mack Avenue Records MAC 1128 – 180 gm/ 5 LP Vinyl box set – ****1/2
Gary Burton is a true musical explorer. Much mention is made of artists who cross genres. Burton seems to top them all, as during his six decades of playing the vibraphone (going back to age 17, when he was hired by RCA Victor, on a recommendation from Chet Atkins), he has crossed from jazz into country, rock, avant, and classical idioms. He has ventured into jazz sub genres including psychedelic, funk, New Cool, gypsy jazz, swing, post modal, and even rescuing smooth jazz for a short period of time.
He is noted for both playing with, and mentoring some of the best guitarists, including Chet Atkins, Jim Hall, Sam Brown, Larry Coryell, Jerry Hahn, Pat Metheny, Ralph Towner, John Scofield, and Julian Lage. Counting the bass players and pianists would take another page. Needless to say, Gary Burton, rivals any other jazz musician for casting a wide net for musical partners, and idioms to explore.
He has just retired in the last few years, and has left a musical legacy that encompasses six decades, and 65+ albums under his own name. Mack Avenue Records, the last of his labels (RCA, Atlantic, ECM, GRP, and Concord, being the others), has recently released a career retrospective on five 180 gm audiophile quality LPs pressed at RTI. The acoustics are sublime, crystal clear, with Burton’s vibe strike, and resounding tone, striking in its sound stage. A 12 page booklet with archival photos, and literate liner notes by jazz writer, Neil Tesser is included. Tesser points out that Gary’s use of four mallets in one hand, provides the opportunity for his chordal accompaniment on his own solos.
The switch between record labels was not abrupt, as he recorded with each label for an extended period of time. What is noteworthy is the fact that Burton’s musical “journeys” changed with each move. His formative years were spent with RCA and Atlantic. From the corporate RCA environment (they did sponsor his collegiate studies at the Berklee School of Music), he moved to Atlantic Records, under the tutelage of the Ertegun brothers. At Atlantic, he crossed musical boundaries to explore gypsy jazz with Stephane Grappelli, and jazz tango with Astor Piazzolla.
The move to ECM enabled musical freedom into avant, and new age leanings fostered by label owner, Manfred Eicher. There he collaborated on a developed subsequent life long relationship with Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, and Steve Swallow. Next with GRP Recordings owned by Larry Rosen and Dave Grusin, Gary dealt with more contemporary jazz motifs, while doing a Benny Goodman tribute, as well as bringing respectability to smooth jazz for a short visit. Other highlights were recordings with Michael Brecker, and revisits with Pat Metheny.
Burton ended his recording career with Concord Records and Mack Avenue. With Concord he formed a “super group” with Corea, Metheny, Dave Holland, and Roy Haynes. He also recorded duos with Chick Corea, and furthered his involvement with pianist, Makoto Ozone. Mack Avenue provided the opportunity to return to a quartet setting, where his groups featured Julian Lage. Lage, who is presently one of the most highly regarded young guitarists on the scene, began playing with Burton at age 15, a prodigy, just like Gary was, when he was “discovered” by Chet Atkins.
As one would expect from a career anthology from a musical genius, the 28 tracks presented on five LPs, just give a taste of the talents and genres covered by Gary Burton over his six decade career. I will mention some highlights from each label:
From RCA,”Faded Love” is a hybrid jazz/country tune with fiddle, guitar, bass and drums. The vibes add a lilt and the fiddle/vibes mix is a winning combination. “Sing Me Softly of the Blues” from The Duster LP features Larry Coryell, with ringing of the vibes echoing in a dreamy manner with Coryell’s blues guitar. Jerry Hahn’s blues playing is featured prominently on “Country Roads.”
Gary’s Atlantic Records tenure is noted for his “Chega de Saudade (No More Blues)” solo, which won a Grammy for Best Jazz Solo. “Las Vegas Tango” is a jazz/rock mix that fits in nicely with the guitar driven rock of 1970s. Burton shows he can go funky on “Boston Marathon” with Chuck Rainey’s pulsating electric bass, and Bernard Purdie’s mastery of the groove. Keith Jarrett on soprano sax on “Como en Vietnam,” and “Daphne” with violinist, Stephane Grappelli, matching blistering solos with Gary, are both sure to please.
Burton’s stay with ECM was a long one, lasting 16 albums over the same amount of years. “Crystal Silence” with Gary and Chick Corea is one of Burton’s most well known numbers. “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” has Ralph Towner on 12 string guitar, and Gary melting hearts on a tender version. “Ictus” and “Midwestern Nights Dream” are both adventurous, and have rock and avant leanings.
The GRP recordings are much more contemporary, with eight albums over 8 years. Gary’s meeting with clarinetist, Eddie Daniels, is effervescent. Burton is on xylophone here, with Mulgrew Miller on piano. Gary makes smooth jazz palatable on “Gorgeous” and the box set’s title track, “Take Another Look.”
The closing LP has both Concord and Mack Avenue material. Gary recorded 12 CDs with Concord and two with Mack Avenue. The Concord tunes feature duos with Chick Corea, and a splendid classical duo with Makoto Ozone on Ravel’s “Le Tombeau De Couperin I (Prelude).” The two tracks from Mack Avenue both feature guitar wunderkind, Julian Lage, in a quartet setting with talented drummer, Antonio Sanchez, and bassist, Scott Colley.
This five LP box set, with pristine acoustics, is a must purchase for both fans of Gary Burton, as well as listeners who would like to explore Burton’s vibraphone talents in a much more concentrated manner. As this is a Limited Edition, we suggest you act quickly.
Artists include: Chet Atkins, Gato Barbieri, Carla Bley, Michael Brecker, Sam Brown, Larry Bunker, Kenneth Buttrey, Gene Cherico, Scott Colley, Hector Console, Chick Corea, Larry Coryell, Luques Curtis, Eddie Daniels, Roy Edenton, Buddy Emmons, Peter Erskine, Mitch Forman, Eric Gale, Mick Goodrick, Bill Goodwin, Stephane Grappelli, Jerry Hahn, Jim Hall, Roy Haynes, David Holland, Chuck Israels, Bob James, Keith Jarrett, Howard Johnson, Marc Johnson, Jimmy Knepper, Steve Lacy, Julian Lage, Bill LaVorgne, Will Lee, Horacio Malvicino, Mike Mantler, Steve Marcus, Charlie McCoy, Pat Metheny, Mulgrew Miller, Joe Morello, Bob Moses, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Vadim Neselovskyl, Buddy Osborne, Makoto Ozone, Fernando Suarez Paz, Astor Piazzolla, Bernard Purdie, Chuck Rainey, Antonio Sanchez, John Scofield, Buddy Spelcher, Henry Strezlecl, Steve Swallow, Richard Tee, Ralph Towner, Eberhard Weber, James Williams, Pablo Ziegler
Disc One: RCA Victor Recordings
Sing Me Softly of the Blues
General Mojo’s Well Laid Plan
Fanfare/Mother of the Dead Man
One, Two, 1-2-3-4 (live)
Disc Two: Atlantic Recordings
Chega de Saudade (No More Blues)
Las Vegas Tango
Grow Your Own
Como En Vietnam
Nuevo Tango (live)
Disc Three: ECM Recordings
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
Ictus/Syndrome/Wrong Key Donkey
B & G (Midwestern Nights Dream)
Disc 4: GRP Recordings
Times Like These
Quick and Running
Knockin’ on Wood
Take Another Look
Disc 5: Concord and Mack Avenue Recordings
Question and Answer
Le Tombeau de Couperin I-Prelude
Elucidation (previously unreleased)
Late Night Sunrise
More information and music samples at Mack Avenue Records website: