Gary Burton – The New Quartet – ECM Records

by | Jun 10, 2019 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Gary Burton – The New Quartet – ECM Records ECM 1030 6743115 (1973/2019), 45:49*****:

(Gary Burton – vibraphone; Michael Goodrick – guitar; Abraham Laboriel – bass; Harry Blazer – drums)

When jazz labels reissue their catalogue, there is reason to celebrate. When the label is ECM, there is a heightened sense of anticipation. ECM (Edition Of Contemporary Music) has flourished under the leadership of co-founder Manfred Eicher since 1969. Starting as an independent label, Jazz, Western Classical and Global musicians have found a creative environment to explore cultural and technical genre-twisting forms of expression. The jazz players included Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, Jan Garbarek, Dave Liebman and Ralph Towner, to name a few. Over the course of five decades, the German label has reissued various collections and joint projects in digital and analog formats. To commemorate their 50th anniversary, ECM has released the first half (25 albums) of a 50- album series titled Touchstones. 

One of the artists included in the initial release is vibraphonist-extraordinaire Gary Burton. Widely known for innovative four mallet technique, his playing was extremely rhythmic, aligning more closely with piano. He collaborated with a far-ranging group of musicians, including Chet Atkins, Chick Corea, Hank Garland, Floyd Cramer, Herbie Hancock, George Shearing, Pat Metheny and B.B. King. The reissue of 1973’s Gary BurtonThe New Quartet is an appropriate selection for this historic box set. Produced by Eicher and engineered by John Nagy, the album represents the symbiotic relationship between a committed musical artist and an equally committed record company. From the opening bars of Chick Corea’s aspirational “Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly”, it is impressive to see Burton and the quartet take on emerging fusion dynamics. Burton’s playing is freewheeling, but with measured precision. Guitar, bass and drums combine for an unrelenting tempo. Goodrick’s electric guitar (with gritty wah-wah effects) delivers a hard-edge to the jam. Abraham Laboriel unleashes a vibrant double bass solo and hands off to Burton. His emphatic, jaunty licks are dazzling. Drawing on another ECM composer, Keith Jarrett’s “Coral” is gossamer-like. Both Burton and Laboriel play off each other with complementary stylings, but utilize different inflections. There is an adroit combination of mood and textured potency on vibraphone, juxtaposed with fluid guitar lines. It is a hauntingly lyrical ballad with delicate notation and resonance.

Drawing on British pianist Gordon Beck’s, “Tying Up Loose Ends” (the first of two Beck compositions), Burton’s scintillating lead is augmented by the rhythm section for a muscular soundscape. Drummer Blazer envelops the punctuated tempo with passion. This quartet displays acuity in distilling the idiosyncratic timing nuances of the period (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Return To Forever). They are fearless in their approach to rhythm. Again, Burton’s soloing is bluesy and full of jazz aesthetics. On the sole Burton original, “Brownout”, there is straight-ahead jamming with impeccable vibraphone notation, propulsive beat and an assortment of funk riffs (double bass). Switching gears, Carla Bley’s “Olhos De Gato” injects a cinematic brooding element. Following his solo,  Goodrick establishes a hushed chord sequence against the glowing tonal harmonics of Burton. A second Beck number (”Mallet Man”) swings with syncopated Latin motifs. There are joyful, spirited vibraphone runs. Goodrick and Laboriel infuse a festive Caribbean ambience to the arrangement. Blazer gets a well-deserved solo that showcases his impeccable timing.

Two closing songs by pianist/composer Michael Gibbs feature the diverse musical approach of Burton and his ensemble. “Four Or Less:” has a first movement with a 1:26 free-jazz translation. Then a repeat chord progression by Goodrick (who adds some twangy flourishes ) ignites a phenomenal run by Burton. The finale, “Nonsequence” is up tempo and replete with red-hot vibraphone runs and another wah-wah-laced guitar solo.

Gary BurtonThe New Quartet is a scintillating jazz album that easily stands the test of time. Burton’s playing is inspired and flawless. His high-flying technical expertise is matched by the superior production standards. The vibraphone tonality is radiant. The acidic electric guitar is folded neatly into the mix. The bottom-end double bass and drums are perfect. The CD reissue is packaged as a mini-gatefold with simple gray color and white lettering. Touchstones should be another major achievement for ECM.

Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly
Tying Up Loose Ends
Olhos De Gato
Mallet Man
Four Or Less

—Robbie Gerson


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