THAT FUSION VIBE

Between 18th and 20th April 1967, while The Beatles were in Abbey Road mixing ‘Good Morning Good Morning’ and ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)’, influential young vibraphone player Gary Burton was in RCA Victor’s New York Studio B recording an album with his new quartet.

Although only twenty-four years old, Burton was a veteran of the jazz scene, having recorded half a dozen albums,  played and recorded with Stan Getz and attempted a quite different stylistic fusion—jazz and country—on his 1966 album Tennessee Firebird. Technically, Burton was pushing the boundaries too, perfecting a unique four-mallet style that allowed clusters and washes of notes quite unlike the single line playing of vibe legends like Lionel Hampton or Milt Jackson.

Gary Burton - Duster LP

The new Gary Burton Quartet album was called Duster, and in addition to the leader, the group comprised guitarist Larry Coryell, Steve Swallow on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. This was a most interesting group; perhaps the very first to genuinely attempt a fusion of jazz and rock sensibilities in a jazz scene dominated by middle-aged men. As Village Voice writer Michael Zwerin observes on the back cover of Duster:

‘Larry Coryell is important to it all. He is in the vanguard of a young and long-haired generation of musicians which is breathing new energy—the energy of rock and roll— into the folk music called jazz.’

With his background in rock, his rebellious long hair and his sharp, attacking guitar lines, Coryell was the perfect counterbalance to Burton’s vibraphone cascades. Only a couple of years later when Miles Davis actively set out to court the rock audience he was simply extending what Burton’s Quartet had begun. Author Stuart Nicholson offers this delicious anecdote:

‘In the summer of 1967 Burton’s group played Bill Graham’s Fillmore in San Francisco, sharing the bill with The Electric Flag and Cream. The Flag and Cream both used huge stacks of Marshall speakers, while in contrast Coryell used a small suitcase-sized Fender amp and speaker and Burton played acoustically. With only a fraction of the other groups’ volume they nevertheless won the crowd over.’*

Whether Duster will win over a non-jazz listener today is a moot point, as the record is absolutely rooted in jazz. This shows up particularly in the drumming, with veteran Roy Haynes (almost twenty years the senior of Burton) showing marvellous touch and well-polished jazz versatility.

Opening piece ‘Ballet’ (Michael Gibbs) is a rolling, swinging post-bop delight, where after the leader’s solo we have the first Coryell offering—interestingly pitched on the lower strings of the guitar as if to offer a tonal counterpoint to the shimmering vibes.

‘Portsmouth figurations’ rattles along with frenetic energy—Haynes gives it some snap!—while Swallow’s ‘General Mojo’s well laid plan’ subpoenas a four-square rhythm into a lilting melody with very pleasing results.

An album highlight is without doubt ‘One, two, 1-2-3-4’, the opening track on side two. This is a rip-snorting collision between virtuoso soloing—Burton and Coryell trade quicksilver lines—and avant-jazz blowing. It’s exciting, energetic, and easy to imagine someone who enjoys the later Davis electric bands being lit up by this piece despite the relative ‘cleanliness’ of the sound.

The ballads are, in the right mood, entrancing; sometimes pastel water lilies, sometimes stoned butterflies. There is often something shimmering and hypnotic about vibraphone textures, especially when accompanied by sympathetic guitar lines.

On release, Duster was awarded five stars by Downbeat (the iconic jazz magazine). Allmusic gives it four-and-a-half (Vinyl Connection’s rating also). This rather special album has been somewhat overlooked, yet is most deserving of investigation by both jazz fans and those interested in the birth of fusion.

Lofty Fake Anagram - Gary Burton LP

A mere four months later**, the Gary Burton Quartet was back in the studio again to record another album. With Bob Moses replacing Roy Haynes on the drum stool, Lofty Fake Anagram has a somewhat gentler atmosphere than its predecessor. It’s as if the edges of the instrumental textures have been smoothed a little, without sacrificing any skill of execution.

Opener ‘June the 15, 1967’ (Gibbs) has a folky swing—imagine Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs. Robinson’ refracted through a jazz looking-glass—while elsewhere there is fast, almost chamber-jazz ensemble playing in ‘Lines’ contrasting with some sunset reflections in the sombrely titled ‘Mother of the dead man’.

In the sophisticated exploration of Ellington’s ‘Fleurette Africaine’ can be heard future echoes of Burton’s later work with Chick Corea. Which is interesting, as the next piece, the melodic ‘I’m your pal’ (Swallow) was one Gary performed (and recorded) with Chick in the late seventies. Some bass-driven moodiness (but fast!) surfaces in ‘The Beach’—I love this out-there piece—while the jazz-rock interface is far from forgotten on the free-form workout ‘General Mojo cuts up’ (Swallow) where Coryell really does cut it up, providing a fitting climax to the album.

I find it hard to pick a winner between Duster and Lofty Fake Anagram. The slightly more polished ensemble sound of the latter is balanced by the verve and freshness of the former. Maybe it’s enough that they are both excellent jazz albums with swirls of fusion energy adding extra vibrancy. Just don’t spend too much time trying to make an anagram out of Lofty Fake. It’ll distract you from the music.^

Lofty Fake Anagram - G Burton

* Nicholson, Stuart (1998) Jazz Rock: A History. Schirmer Books, NY. [Page 33]

** August 15th – 17th 1967. Pink Floyd’s debut, The piper at the gates of dawn was almost two weeks old.

^ The best I could come up with was ‘Folky Fate’, though I quite like the anachronistic ‘Alt Key Off’.

Gary Burton Quartet - Duster

Label: RCA Victor

Released: mid-1967

Duration: 33:01
Gary Burton Quartet - Lofty Fake Anagram

Label: RCA Victor

Released: later in 1967

Duration: 37:48

Larry Coryell - Eleventh House Live

This post honours the passing of guitarist Larry Coryell—brilliant, inconsistent, restless, prolific—who died on 19 February 2017, aged 73.

Prolific? Nearly 90 albums as leader. Restless? He flitted between jazz, rock and classical styles. Inconsistent? Larry should not have sung. Brilliant? The highlights are simply stellar and he was a major force in the creation and development of fusion.

Vale Larry.

*

Jazz fans will love this clip. So will Sixties fashion fans. And as for those who never realised that Steve Swallow was the long-lost sibling of John Cleese, well!

23 comments

  1. Splendid tribute, Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Michael. Burton is, Coryell was, a splendid artist.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, I had no idea we lost Coryell. A neighbor turned me onto him many, many years ago. Nice to see a tribute to Gary Burton too. Somewhere packed away in a box with very thick tape over it is a copy of “Alone at Last.” Or, at least I hope it’s still with me (and in playable shape!). – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Alone at last’ is great. Hope you get to liberate and enjoy it some day, Marty!

      Like

  3. A bonanza all around, Bruce. So much to enjoy, from your writing (first time I’ve ever seen the word subpoena in a piece about music!), to the sixties fashions, to Coryell at 3:29 in the video, to Steve Swallow’s amazing, spidery fingers. I’m woefully uninformed about jazz–whether it’s fused with other genres or not–and need to remedy that. I’d heard of Larry Coryell over the years, but wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a lineup. One could do worse than to be remembered as “brilliant, inconsistent, restless, prolific’. Indeed, I’d say that’s something to shoot for!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, when I read that list back, reordered and reflected, I agree. Not a bad mission statement at all!

      I have this vision of creating a ‘routes to jazz’ reverse compass suggesting starting places for people coming from different musical directions towards this (often) demanding and (hugely) diverse music.
      For example, if you love Baroque and early Classical period Western Art Music (WAM), then try the Modern Jazz Quartet (‘Pyramid’ or the later ‘Blues on Bach’). Love ‘Wish You Were Here’? Try Miles’ ‘In A Silent Way’. You get the idea.

      Very glad you found a variety of things to enjoy, JDB.

      Like

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed those Gary Burton albums. And I love your idea of different routes to jazz. Bring ’em on, Bruce!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Consider it logged in the VC ideas book! Glad you enjoyed Gary and Larry day.

      Like

  5. I’m only familiar (or at least I think I’m only familiar) with his work on ‘the new tango’
    But I’ve recently realized that the vibraphone is among my favourite instruments any song seems to become 20% better through its inclusion) and so I’d like to explore more of Burton’s work.
    A 4.5 star rating from VC? Sounds like this would be one I’d enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At least 20%!
      Nice one, Geoff. I don’t think we vibraphone aficionados are a huge slice of the popular music pie (I’d need to consult a suitable graph) but in the right mood, I love it. Check out the albums Burton made with Chick Corea, particularly ‘Duet’ and ‘Crystal Silence’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m afraid we’d constitute a niche market, a small sliver of the pie graph yes – but those who like the vibes, love the vibes!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautiful tribute, and two records I didn’t know I needed until I read this.

    And since I don’t have them (yet), I’m gonna go make lofty fake into anagrams… um… key of flat?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Outstanding anagram. Well done!
      The Burton album ‘Throb’ is pretty good too – has some quite powerful rock vibes (ee!) in the mix.

      Like

  7. And there’s me thinking my own 4 mallet style was unique!

    I love the cover of Duster, they got everything just right on that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m positive your mallet skills are unsurpassed. Surely you are turning away young vibraphonists from your door regularly?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Don’t get me started on young vibraphonists! I often have to leave by the back door and sneak out across next door’s garden to avoid the critters.

        PS. What a wonderful word ‘vibraphonist’ is!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for another path to follow.
    (When inspired, ignorance such as mine can be yellow-brick coloured if not golden).
    Here’s another vote for the vibraphone too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The endless sunshine road. Marvellous, ain’t it? I’d suggest ‘Lofty Fake Anagram’ for sir. Fine album.

      Like

  9. Another great piece. I will be searching this one out. Missed it first time around. CB thanks you. (Seen Larry and The 11th House on a double bill with Return to Forever).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a BRILLIANT double bill. Jealous!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. […] Gary Burton—Duster […]

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