When they first performed together in New York in the late 1960’s, Chick Corea and Gary Burton thought that playing as a duo would never work out, and they went their separate ways for several years. Then, their unplanned joint appearance at a 1972 jazz festival in Germany actually, a forced duo at the end of the festival dreamed up by the promoter caused considerable reconsideration to say the least, not to mention forming a musical event that eventually became legendary. Thirty-five years have passed.... quickly. So have five albums, none of which was more influential than the inimitable Crystal Silence, a studio recording that fortunately recaptured the on-stage magic of that festival.
Not a year has gone by since then that Corea and Burton haven’t performed as a duo, continuing what is becoming an anticipated tradition, even though the recorded documentation hasn’t been prolific. In addition, their work has created recordings that have been identified solely with them, starting with the gorgeous "Crystal Silence," which no one can play as well as they. In fact, Corea the composer writes such unique and difficult pieces that few musicians could be expected to even imitate, let alone personalize, Corea’s music.
Listen to Corea and Burton on "No Mystery," with its shimmering upsweep of notes after the brief four-note theme, and all one can do is marvel. Not only do these extraordinary musicians add excitement and character to this readily identifiable, but technically challenging to the work, but they play it in unison with the clarity of a single instrument playing the passages.
Pat Metheney, who has proven to be an insightful observer of the jazz tradition, wrote the liner notes to The New Crystal Silence, and he states that "Gary Burton is one of the best improvisers of all time, not just as a vibraphonist, but among all players." Furthermore, he opines that Chick Corea is "one of the most important and influential pianists in jazz" and "one of the greatest composers of the modern era." This may sound like heartfelt admiration from a friend who has performed off and on for decades with Corea and Burton, but when one reflects on the statements, the realization sinks in that they are true.
We may long for the days of bebop when it changed the way in which jazz was played and heard. However, we have to-be legendary musicians in our midst who, like Thelonious Monk or Charles Mingus, will rightfully be venerated more in the future for their innovations become more apparent.
For those reasons, and many others, The New Crystal Silence is an event, as much as dual set of recordings, to be savored.
The last time we heard a recording from them, Corea and Burton left us with Native Sense, a Concord album that included new music for them to play, including two new compositions, rather than recalling the familiar pieces like "La Fiesta." But that was a studio recording. The New Crystal Silence consists of three live recordings. Either the live audiences inspired Corea and Burton to achieve a higher level of infectious extroversion in their playing, or else these two musicians have becomes that much better in the eleven years since Native Sense. A listen can leave a person shaking one’s head in delight and wonder at the flawlessness and spirit of their performances (though Burton says they make mistakes sometimes find one!). [www.garyburton.com]
Most of the duo performances occurred at the Molde Jazz Festival in Norway. Corea recalled in particular their terrific performance of "Señor Mouse" in Tenerife, Canary Islands, and that one completes the duo CD.
The uniqueness of these double album set arises from their performance with The Sydney Symphony in May, 2007 at the Sydney Operation House Concert Hall as part of the Symphony’s 75th anniversary celebration. Corea had no time to write the arrangements, and he called in his reedman from Origin, Tim Garland, to handle the arrangements. An experiment that succeeded, Garland’s arrangements allowed for the Symphony to be showcased, even as Corea and Burton stepped forth as guest artists to play the music they have contributed to the jazz vocabulary. The choice of songs allowed for orchestral richness, from the dark hues and subdued movement of "Duende" to the rousing celebratory fanfares of "La Fiesta," to which Garland added castanetting flamenco elements and dramatic crescendos culminating in brassy exclamations. Even so, the most thrilling parts of "La Fiesta," even in the midst of a symphony orchestra, occur when Corea and Burton respond in milliseconds to each other’s thoughts and mesh their playing into a single fabric. The thoroughly improvised introduction to "La Fiesta" of solely piano and vibes is the best part of the track, with no slight intended for the symphony’s fine work. However, the masterful spontaneity of jazz that excites is listeners occurs in the first two minutes of the track, and it contrasts mightily with the notated dramatic flare that allows the symphony to end the piece satisfyingly for one of its season ticket-holders. The sly implication of but two instruments expands into full-blown explication, leaving little to the imagination.
Corea’s and Burton’s musical fabric, dense and rich and irresistibly attractive, accounts for the inimitability of Corea and Burton. Just two musicians, with quicksilver reflexes and decades of original musical thought, can toss out more ideas, glowing and engaging, in improvisational 30 seconds of "Bud Powell" than entire bands can suggest throughout an entire performance, even as the two of them handle the tasks of rhythm, harmony, melody and improvisation, exchanging leads.
Corea and Burton were aware of the desirability, if not the necessity, of entertaining the Molde audience with standards they would recognize. Thus, "Sweet and Lovely" and "I Love You Porgy" are included, "Sweet and Lovely" puckish and teasing with Corea’s trills and "I Love You Porgy" evolving after Corea’s introduction into a basis for Burton’s cushioned, shimmering delivery. However, the inclusion of "Waltz for Debby" is the most interesting of the three, not only because Burton modeled his pianistic vibes playing after Bill Evans’ approach. Also, it becomes a classic recording that documents how these two jazz greats interpret the song, which attains its rippling flow not through waltzing minimalism, but through complexity made accessible.
After performing 75 concerts in 2007, Chick Corea and Gary Burton chose these 13 tracks as the most unforgettable of the tour. Burton writes that "We seem to read each other’s minds.... . By the time we finish a concert, we’re buzzing with excitement because of what happened on stage." It’s good to know that these jazz musicians still remain as energized as their audiences when they perform. The two-CD set, The New Crystal Silence, will remain unforgettable as well. It is a welcome addition to the recorded documentation available by these two jazz masters.