Largely forgotten about these days, the fact remains that vibraphonist Gary Burton had beat Miles Davis to the fusion of rock and jazz by at least two years. His first RCA album, Duster, was cut in 1967 and featured guitarist Larry Coryell on a set of tunes that while not as spacey or lengthy as Davis's forays into the fusion bag, nonetheless forged a style that clearly was new at the time. It has taken some time for anyone to get around to reissuing this material. Koch has put out the previously mentioned Duster and Country Roads and Other Places, while Lofty Fake Anagram surfaced briefly on the One Way label. RCA has shown very little interest in its own Burton holdings, making the first CD appearance of A Genuine Tong Funeral a rather startling surprise, considering that it is the most revolutionary of Burton's catalog items.
Composed by Carla Bley, this 1967 work is somewhat of an extended suite, a style that would later take on rather large proportions in her classic Escalator Over the Hill. With the subtitle A Dark Opera Without Words, Bley's piece is an anything but macabre look at life and death. Oddly enough, a tune called "The End" starts things off and "The Beginning" is found at the conclusion of the work. Another bit of additional trivia, Bley has suggested that she had intended the piece to be performed on stage with costumes, lighting, etc.
Including Bley and Burton, a ten-piece ensemble works through the five parts of this extended composition that manages to cover quite a range of moods, from peaceful to chaotic. Burton's signature four-mallet style is surely a highlight of this disc, yet there's also room for the searing tenor of Gato Barbieri, guitarist Larry Coryell, and trumpeter Mike Mantler. There's much to suggest that what Bley has written here would provide further fodder for her subsequent efforts for Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, especially such dirges as "The New Funeral March."
The sound quality achieved on this disc is nothing short of excellent. Even my previous copy on Japanese vinyl couldn't match this one. As a bonus, five tracks from Lofty Fake Anagram are included, although I question the logic behind that when a reissue of the complete album would have made much more sense. That aside, don't miss the opportunity to revisit this underground classic or discover it for the very first time.
Track listing: The Opening, Interlude: Shovels, The Survivors, Grave Train, Death Rolls-Ancestors, Morning-Part One, Interlude Lament, Silent Spring, Fanfare, Mother of the Dead Man, Some Dirge-Hour of the Wolf, Morning-Part Two, The New Funeral March, The New National Anthem-Son of Jazz, The Survivors, June the 15th, 1967, Feelings and Things, Fleurette Africaine, I'm Your Pal, Lines
Gary Burton, vibes; Carla Bley, piano, organ, composer, conductor; Larry Coryell, guitar; Steve Swallow, bass; Bob Moses, drums; Steve Lacy, soprano sax; Gato Barbieri, tenor sax; Jimmy Knepper, trombone; Howard Johnson, tuba; Mike Mantler, trumpet