BBC Music Magazine
From the archives
Geoffrey Smith on a retrospective of the dazzling and daring American vibraphonist Gary Burton
Gary Burton is the complete jazz professional. In an art notorious for its precarious life style, his career offers shining proof that it’s possible, in the musicians’ phrase, to ‘take care of business’, and combine creativity, responsibility and commitment at the highest level. Dazzling vibraphone soloist, leader, educator, he was still at the top of his game when in 2017 he capped a lifetime of achievement by announcing his retirement, bidding farewell to his profession with a grand valedictory tour. And now Take Another Look: A Career Retrospective (Mack Avenue MAC1128) documents the full range of his musical accomplishment in a magnificent five-lp vinyl set.
Bursting on the scene as an unnervingly precocious 17-yearold, Burton made his name as a sideman with George Shearing and Stan Getz, then launched his own quartet, a joyous crew fusing jazz with rock, folk and country in a captivating mix which made the Burton band one of the cutting-edge sounds of the ’60s. Their debut album Duster still sounds fresh as paint, and Gary’s elite line-up of guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Roy Haynes anticipates a life-time of eminent alliances, including keyboard stars Keith Jarrett and, above all, Chick Corea, whose brilliant duo partnership with Burton over almost half a century is well represented.
Guitar icon Pat Metheny is another cutting-edge Burton ally, and this rich retrospective also includes some unexpected partnerships – Gary’s encounter with violin legend Stephane Grappelli, for instance, and a live meeting with tango supremo Astor Piazzolla. And among this stellar company, Burton’s own virtuosity retains its signal lustre, epitomised by his stunning, Grammy-winning album for unaccompanied vibraphone, Alone at Last, a solo tour de force of peerless dexterity and invention.
But there have been Grammys aplenty adorning Burton’s remarkable career. More important, as this retrospective shows, is the quality of his musical presence, what he’s achieved and, in his words, what ‘I want to be remembered for’.
The greatest jazz players and their music are explored in Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz, a weekly programme broadcast on Saturdays from 12am-1am