Gary Burton: Like Minds

Douglas Payne By

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Like MindsEvery once in a great while, the stars align and the muse visit a recording studio to smile beneficently on the musicians assembled there. How else to account for the ineffable chemistry that infuses the best jazz albums? Well the muses were working overtime when vibraphonist Gary Burton arranged the first recording encounter between Chick Corea and guitarist Pat Metheny and recruited an impeccable rhythm section staffed by bassist Dave Holland and drum legend Roy Haynes.

Like Minds , the resulting album, ranks among these musicians' best work, with the kind of soul-deep communication that is often expected but so rarely occurs on all star sessions.

From the time the self-taught teenager Gary Burton (b. January 23, 1943) burst onto the jazz scene as part of Hank Garland’s 1960 quartet, he has almost immediately set about making an impact. His RCA debut, New Vibe Man In Town , followed in 1961 as well as a featured role in George Shearing’s very popular quintet.

By 1964, he’d taken a two-year stint as part of Stan Getz’s pianoless quartet. Burton already caught audience’s attention with his astounding three and four-mallet technique. In 1966, after seven albums of his own, he successfully fused elements of jazz and country for the remarkable, still substantial Tennessee Firebird.

But it was his next album, Duster (1967), that is often credited as being one of the first jazz albums to successfully embrace the emerging "rock" sound. Unlike the sugary "pop" sounds that watered down many jazz albums of the time, Duster gave birth to what later became "fusion" and combined Burton with guitar whiz Larry Coryell, bassist Steve Swallow and drum legend Roy Haynes. Burton closed out the 1960s with a string of equally influential albums: Lofty Fake Anagram , A Genuine Tong Funeral and Country Roads and Other Places.

Switching to Atlantic Records in 1969, Burton further explored the soulful side of rock the label was becoming known for as well as collaborations with violinist Stephane Grappelly and pianist Keith Jarrett. He also won a Grammy award for his solo album, Alone At Last (1971). That same year, Burton joined the faculty of the Berklee College of Music, where he became professor, then dean of curriculum. Today, he serves as Executive Vice President of the influential musical finishing school.

He has been an avid educator who has taught several generations of jazz pioneers, from John Scofield and Pat Metheny to Tiger Okoshi and Makato Ozone. Burton has also remained an avid jazz explorer as well, recording in a variety of situations throughout the years.

His 1972 ECM debut with Chick Corea, Crystal Silence , remains a classic of explorative, creative music. Burton followed this with more than a dozen albums over the following decade and a half, from duet recordings with bassist Steve Swallow and guitarist Ralph Towner, to his influential mid 70s quintet featuring guitar wunderkind Pat Metheny. In ensuing years, he has also been successfully paired with pianist Ahmad Jamal, tango king Astor Piazolla and even such non-jazz artists as K.D. Lang and Richard Stoltzman.

Leonard Feather once said of Burton that he explores "challenging material that is extremely contemporary, without yielding to the excesses of the avant-garde or the pursuit of the rock dollar." Nowhere is that more true than on, Like Minds , Gary Burton’s third album for Concord Jazz.

It’s a beauty and a real treat to hear these chameleonic musicians interact so intuitively. The group covers two Burton tunes ("Like Minds," "Country Roads"), three superior Pat Metheny songs ("Question and Answer," "Elucidation," "For A Thousand Years"), three Chick Corea numbers ("Windows," "Futures," "Straight Up and Down") and George Gershwin’s "Soon." Among such creative individualists, there is surprisingly more deference than domination at work. No one overshadows anyone else, but all seem to work hard together to bring out the best in whoever carries the lead.

Certainly, it is tempting to follow the sounds of the soloist (in this case, most often, Burton, Metheny and Corea). The guitarist and the pianist, in particular, are making some of their most satisfying sounds in quite a few years here.

But just listen to what’s happening in the rhythm section! Considering the diversity in their careers, it’s a bit of a shock to hear how ideally suited Holland and Haynes are to one another. And the comping of the other three excels to a new high for jazz in the last decade of the twentieth century.

The music overall, is interestingly studied, but just as remarkable in how much enjoyment it provides. Each track has highlights to share. Those that stand out in particular include Metheny’s loping "Question and Answer" (prominently featuring Burton and Corea), Corea’s bouncy "Windows" (spotlighting Metheny and some nice keyboard work by the writer), Corea’s feature for Burton, "Futures," Burton’s bluesy visit back to "Country Roads," and Corea’s typically challenging "Straight Up and Down."

Profound and playful, sophisticated and emotionally direct, the music truly is the reflection of five highly distinctive personalities collaborating without ego and with complete confidence in each other. As the year comes to a close, Like Minds stands as one of the nicest contributions to jazz in 1998, a perfect melding of musicians and material.

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