Thursday, October 28, 2004

Today's post picks up from yesterday, and it's about Gary Burton, a self taught vibraphoning phenomenon who liked to mix other genres with his jazz, and about Larry Coryell, a guitar player who occasionally liked to blow the roof off before that was exactly an acceptable jazz guitar thing to do.

The four recordings by the Gary Burton Quartet with Coryell on guitar are Duster, Lofty Fake Anagram, A Genuine Tong Funeral, and Live At Carnegie Hall. Of these, the two that are burning up my iPod/turntable are Duster and the live album. All are available on CD, though not always in the US.

What's so neat about these is the fact that they're clearly jazz as far as the bass, drums and vibes go, but Larry badly wants to rock out (though he's trying hard not to go too far) and the tension between the two impulses can be breathtaking. It's not fusion in the funk/electric Miles Davis sense, but it's also not like Larry's more rock and roll efforts that would come later. Not that I'm an expert, but I've never really heard anything quite like what they were up to, which would seem to be straight up jazz with teeny avant leanings and Larry kind of hopping back and forth between jazz and rock guitar. You'd think that the combo of vibes (which I associate with Getz type stuff) and guitar with feedback would be a weird one. That was my first impulse, but they actually work really well together. This is probably due, in part, to the fact that Burton can play just about as fast as Coryell, so when he hits the vibes with a sharp attack they don't sound that removed from the cleaner tons of Larry's guitar.

Anyway, the most obvious example of this back and forth tension is probably another version of the tune Walter L., last heard as a country-western piece on Burton's Tennessee Firebird album (I posted it yesterday). On the Live At Carnegie Hall album, it starts off like it's going to be a Jimi Hendrix tune, but Burton quickly takes over. Subsequently, Larry keeps throwing in riffs that are inarguably rock, but the rest of the band seems to ignore him. It's almost like he's trying to convince them to loosen up, and they're interested but not quite ready to commit.

Where the interplay really comes together, in my opinion, is on the live version of a song called One, Two, 1-2-3-4. This originally appeared on Duster in a vastly different version, which I'm posting here for comparison. On Duster, Larry comes in on guitar right after the intro. There's a little feedback and some fairly percussive playing, but nothing too far out, and then Burton starts playing and things calm down a bit. By the time the group reaches Carnegie Hall, the whole arrangement has changed. This time, Burton follows the intro for a few minutes, subsequently joined by Larry. Coryell starts out cleanly, but you can hear him gradually slipping towards the dark side. Right around the four minute mark, the guitar amp starts to buzz forebodingly. We never quite get the explosion that's hinted at, but over the next couple of minutes, Lary keeps edging toward a full-on Lou Reed-like blowout. Ever time I listen to this, I find myself holding my breath through the latter half of the song. Really amazing track, and I'm pretty angry at all jazz fans who didn't steer me in its direction. Hope you like!

For some perspective, both Duster and Lofty Fake Anagram made Playboy magazine's reader's poll list of the top twenty-four small combo lps released in 1968, with Anagram ranking twelfth, just above Miles Davis' Nefertiti. Number one was a Herb Alpert album and number two was Wheels of Fire by Cream (!). Interestingly, both Burton and Coryell were rated much higher by their fellow musicians than by the Playboy voting public. People who bought their magazines in brown paper bags picked Burton as the sixteenth best artist on "miscellaneous instrument" and Coryell was a pitiful nineteenth best guitar player. In contrast, other musicians ranked Burton number two (behind Milt Jackson) and Coryell number five.

Ok, no more jazz for a while. But seriously, don't let the size of these files scare you away. They're pretty amazing.

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