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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Crystal Silence:
The ECM Recordings 1972-79

ECM 176 8057




CD1 - Crystal Silence
1. Señor Mouse
2. Arise, Her Eyes
3. I'm Your Pal
4. Desert Air
5. Crystal Silence
6. Falling Grace
7. Feelings and Things
8. Children's Song
9. What Game Shall We Play Today

CD2 - Duet
1. Duet Suite
2. Children's Song No. 15
3. Children's Song No. 2
4. Children's Song No. 5
5. Children's Song No. 6
6. Radio
7. Song to Gayle
8. Never
9. La Fiesta

CD3 - In Concert (1)
1. Señor Mouse
2. Bud Powell
3. Crystal Silence
4. Tweak

CD4 - In Concert (2)
1. I'm Your Pal/Hullo, Bolinas
2. Love Castle
3. Falling Grace
4. Mirror, Mirror
5. Song to Gayle
6. Endless Trouble, Endless Pleasure

Gary Burton - Vibes
Chick Corea - Piano 


An ignoramus named Michael Henderson, who usually writes about sport, recently made the momentous statement in the Daily Telegraph that "Jazz is not a high art form". Of course, we could debate the meaning of "high art" despite its vagueness. The Concise Oxford Dictionary avoids defining the term, but the Oxford English Dictionary's entry says: "Of exalted quality, character, or style; of lofty, elevated, or superior kind; high-class... Freq. in high art, comedy, culture".

Mr Henderson seems to be living in a land of illusion, like the one described by Bishop Berkeley. Unlike Dr Johnson, I won't kick a stone and say "I refute it THUS" but I will simply bring forward this boxed set as evidence that jazz can be, and often is, high art. Gary Burton and Chick Corea had already performed together in larger bands a few times but when they started playing as a duo, they discovered a marvellous chemistry which certainly fulfils the OED's requirements of exaltation, elevation and high-class performance. The four CDs in this box contain the pick of their work together, and it seldom if ever falls below the highest standard of musical skill and creativity.

I have said before that playing as a duo demands particular skills from the musicians - especially the ability to listen and react instantly to what their colleague is doing. The sleeve-note quotes Gary Burton: "We're thinking alike, as though we were two piano players, and yet our instruments don't sound alike". The interplay between these two men is continually fascinating and often amazing. As just one example, take Tweak from the third album - a concert performance in which the two men spontaneously create marvellous counterpoint and share in turns the jobs of soloist and accompanist.

The fourth CD - a continuation of the 1979 concert in Zurich - also enables us to relish the two musicians playing separately. Gary Burton's medley of I'm Your Pal and Hullo, Bolinas typifies how Gary expanded our expectations of the vibraphone, making it virtually obligatory for all its players now to use four mallets instead of the two that were previously considered adequate. This technique enables Burton to conjure up copiously sonorous chords to accompany his own lines - virtually a one-man band. If this track appeals to you, I suggest you obtain Gary's solo album Alone at Last - another masterpiece.

Chick Corea follows with a solo on his own composition Love Castle. In fact no fewer than 15 of the tunes here are Corea's inventions, with Steve Swallow (Burton's frequent bassist) supplying all the other tunes except for Mike Gibbs's Feelings and Things. Love Castle illustrates Chick's brilliance in creating and re-creating melodies, as well as his attractive mixture of legato and percussive passages. Note the morse-code-like notes which start after about six minutes of this track, which lasts for more than 14 triumphant minutes.

I can understand some listeners finding some tracks rather pretty-pretty, because both musicians play sustaining instruments - which create very liquid sounds. Chick Corea balances this by inserting many abrupt, stabbing chords when accompanying. At any rate, there is plenty of vigorous work on the second CD, opening with the purposeful Duet Suite and closing with La Fiesta. The latter starts with a teasing piano introduction before the vibes join in the build-up to one of Corea's catchiest showpieces, evincing Chick's love of swirling Spanish and Latin-American rhythms.

The second CD contrasts the more extrovert tracks with four of Corea's Children's Songs, which are as classically "pure" as any chamber music. Indeed, all the music in this compilation has the concentration and co-operation which one expects in the finest chamber music.

The only problem with this collection is that enthusiasts may already have one or more of the albums and may not wish to spend nearly £30 on duplication. But it almost goes without saying that the recorded sound from ECM is masterly in clarity and balance and, overall, this is a very cherishable set.

Some classical music can be more "serious" in its trappings but how many classical musicians could improvise such superb music so consistently? In this compilation we have two virtuosi playing beautiful music impeccably together with little or no rehearsal. This is, indeed, high art.

Tony Augarde 

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