Gary Burton — Lofty Fake Anagram (1967)
Gary Burton is an absolute giant of the instrument, having taken the four-mallet technique to the next level. This LP and Duster (also 1967) are super examples of his skill as a jazz composer, improviser and arranger. Larry Coryell’s guitar plays an excellent supporting role as part of a first class rhythm section. The only puzzle is the name. The anagrams I came up with don’t seem to illuminate the album much: “Folky Fate”, “Alt Key Off” and “Toffy Lake”.
Gary Burton — Good Vibes (1970)
Without doubt Good Vibes is the closest Gary Burton came to jazz-rock, the inclusion of three electric guitarists adding muscle and attitude to the record. Not that Burton is simply an observer of this edginess. The opening cut, “Vibrafinger” snarls out of the speakers in a most un-genteel way. It’s like the mallet man was determined to take the pristine vibraphone and rub its nose in the dirt. From the soulful blues of “Pain in my heart” through the funky swing of “Leroy the Magician” to a beautifully balanced version of “I never loved a man (The way I love you)” the playing is intense yet uplifting. Bernard Purdie (drums), Richard Tee (piano/organ) and Steve Swallow (bass) join Eric Gale, Jerry Hahn and Sam Brown (the guitarists) on this terrific album. Good vibes indeed.
Gary Burton—Chick Corea — Crystal Silence (1972)
Put the master vibist with one of the finest pianists ever to explore electric pianos and you get an album of shimmering beauty and ethereal melody. Like standing in the butterfly house at a zoological garden, this is wondrous music that flitters and dances on unseen currents. Pure magic.
Roy Ayers — Coffy (1973)
No need to read the words with this one. Just take in the glory of the album cover and hand over your money. “Coffy” is a classic of the 70s blacksploitation sub-genre. Pam Grier plays a nurse turned vigilante, there’s a dude who wears capes, the cars are the size of basketball courts, and the body count higher than a pair of red platform boots. There is even a brawl between the very handy Ms Grier and some bad guy’s, er, lady friends. It’s got everything.
Musically, the thoroughly entertaining soundtrack covers every base from steamy jazz-funk through soul to a harpsichord eulogy. It is Roy Ayres at his best as composer, arranger, and (vibraphone) musician. Don your flairs and listen to the album. You won’t regret it.
Dave Pike — Times Out Of Mind (1976)
Although Pike courted the 1960s lounge jazz demographic, his early albums are pretty much straight ahead bop and very pleasing too, not least because Pike’s Peak (1961) features Bill Evan’s on piano.
But after listening to a selection of Dave Pike albums, the one I opted to feature is a mid-70s set that brazenly includes contemporary touches such as some funky bass lines (Luther Hughes) and a dollop of synth; there’s even a Debussy quote in opening piece “Dance of the Grebes”. Though there may be a lack of cohesion (the romp through jazz standard “Wee” sticks out a bit) this is great fun and that uncommon thing, a jazz album accessible to anyone who loves those mid-decade analogue sounds (Tom Ranier’s electric piano work is top class). The mellifluous Kenny Burrell adds guitar to three tracks, a notable bonus.
John Sangster and Alan Lee — Double Vibes: Hobbit (1977)
Australian jazz legend John Sangster was an extraordinarily prolific composer. His Tolkien-inspired releases alone number more discs than an average career. Sangster’s hobbit obsession began (musically speaking) back in 1973 with the release on Swaggie Records of The Hobbit Suite. Lots about Sangster’s Middle Earth music in these pages (beginning here) so we’ll cut to this very enjoyable LP of some re-interpretations of earlier compositions plus some new pieces. Sangster recruited another mallet veteran for the date, and he and Alan Lee play up a storm on these (sometimes tenuously related) hobbity tunes. Lee’s marimba appears on several tracks, enriching the tonal palette and allowing a fascinating comparison of the instruments.
There we are then. Commission fulfilled with lots of vibes.
Though now I’m wondering. Was the initial request simply for some good time music and not about vibraphones at all?