After he broadened the possibilities of the vibraphone by exploring the music of Argentinean bandoneon genius Astor Piazzolla, Gary Burton now is looking back over the instrument’s relatively brief tradition in the year that he considers to be its seventy-fifth anniversary. The actual invention of the vibraphone remains a mystery, enhancements such as the vibrato and sustain pedal added incrementally. It seems that the vibes didn’t arrive fully developed at a single moment in time.
Perhaps more versatile than the vibraphone masters he honors, Burton seamlessly adopts the styles of his predecessors on For Hamp, Red, Bags, And Cal.
No small part of the success of the CD is Makoto Ozone’s arrangements, which capture the essence of the vibraphonists’ musical spirit and the style of music they performed. One of Burton’s favorite duo musicians, Ozone accompanies Burton on two of the more challenging numbers, “Hole In The Wall” and “Dance Of The Octopus,” as Burton recalls Red Norvo’s innovations in making the xylophone and marimba sing in spite of their inherent lack of sustain. Reportedly, Burton practiced for two weeks to nail Norvo’s proficiency on the difficult instruments.
Burton uses three other groups to honor the sounds of the other vibraphonists. Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Horacio Hernandez and Luis Quintero illuminate the numbers dedicated to Cal Tjader, revealing Tjader’s brilliance in adapting the vibraphone to Latin music years ahead of the broader popularity of Cuban music. Of course, that interest fits well with Burton’s explorations of the tango, perhaps his niche in the genre. Even “Body And Soul” assumes a light rhumba posture that Tjader injected into even the standards as a member of the George Shearing quinteta position that Burton himself filled in the early stages of his career.
Mulgrew Miller, Christian McBride and Lewis Nash create a more traditional rhythm section behind Burton on the bop- and swing-based tracks inspired by Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson. On the shimmering “Midnight Sun,” Burton stretches out in glowing chromatic descent, even as Miller emerges from the background with a confident solo in a wordlessly narrative basis. After Nash’s propulsive introduction to “Flying Home,” it becomes evident that Ozone has set up Miller’s vamp as a minor-keyed offset to Burton’s bright, flowing major-keyed melody. Christian McBride’s solo on “Flying Home” adds humor and even more buoyancy to the tune.
McBride’s contributions are more evident on the tributes to Red Norvo that he shares with Burton and Russell Malone. Recalling Norvo’s reborn originality in his trio with Tal Farlow and Charles Mingus in the early 1950’s, the contemporary trio features McBride on “Back Home Again In Indiana” (a tune perhaps of personal significance to Indiana native Burton and one which he performed with Norvo). Singing and swinging his bass from the very start of the tune, McBride exhibits a combination of precise articulation with a jauntiness that sets the tone for the piece. When Malone comes in with the same degree of unassuming technical proficiency and a toe-tapping nod to the swing guitar tradition, the stage is set for a lively exchangeone for which Burton assumes an accompanying role for over half of the tune. Norvo’s “Godchild” and “Move” are performed along more traditional lines with Burton leading their development as McBride walks the bass and Malone strums until they too break out into individualistic and lively solos.
A student of the vibraphone all of his life and yet an artist who has avoided imitation, Gary Burton finally has recorded an album unlike any of his others, in spite of his extensive discography.