This is more like it: a record from Burton to put ‘Crystal Silence’ to rightful shame. Even so, I suspect there will be those ready to accuse Burton of going too far to the other, rockier extreme from the cosy ramble with Chick Corea on the previous album.
Burton has gathered around him a group of highly professional and adept musicians (none of whom I’ve come across before), all completely at ease with one another on the up-beats and ballads alike. Goodrick, Laboriel and Blazer are a delight, both when they’re rocking together on numbers like Corea’s Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly, in which Laboriel produces some perceptive bass figures, and when they’re featuring more individually: Goodrick comes up with some acutely sensitive guitar on many occasions, particularly during Jarrett’s Coral.
Burton and Goodrick prove very fine front-liners: listen to the effortless empathy between the two on Burton’s solo composition, Brownout. (Is Burton aware, one wonders, of the American slang connotations of the word?) Behind them, Blazer always anticipates every move with razor-sharp wit.
Burton is most prominent on Carla Bley’s Olhos de Gato, a bitter-sweet ballad featuring Burton’s uncanny trademark: his extraordinary technical ability to bend his notes by what seems at times like a whole tone. The carnival atmosphere of Mallet Man (written by Gordon Beck and dedicated to Burton under the original title of Here Comes The Mallet Man) makes an immediate contrast, but despite Goodrick’s guitar, I find myself waiting for the instantly recognisable tones of Beck’s Hohner.
Add to these the two numbers Four Or Less and Nonsequence by Burton’s ex-work-mate and apparently composer-in-chief, Mike Gibbs, and here’s the best music from Burton in a long time. The group’s collective musicianship capably handles an album of what one assumes are a collection of Burton’s favourites by Corea, Jarrett, Bley, Beck and Gibbs with verve, delicacy and style. And there hasn’t been much of that about recently.
Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly; Coral; Tying Up Loose Ends; Brownout (22½ min) – Olhos de Gato; Mallet Man; Four Or Less; Nonsequence (23½ min)
Gary Burton (vbs); Michael Goodrick (gtr); Abraham Laboriel (bs); Harry Blazier (dm). Massachussetts, March 1973.