Gary Burton – The New Quartet
1973 – ECM Records
The early 70s were an interesting time for jazz. Groups like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report were melding jazz composition with the aggressiveness of rock music. Prog groups were sprouting up and doing a similar thing. The group on this album seems to be trying to fit into that mold a bit, but they lean more towards traditional jazz than rock music. The playing is excellent; with Mick Goodrick, Abe Laboriel, and Harry Blazer, you kind of can’t go wrong. There is a nice mix of tunes here from a bunch of different composers, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Gordon Beck, Gary Burton, Carla Bley, and Mike Gibbs, but there is a definite continuity that runs throughout the album. “Mallet Man” was the first track I’d heard of this album, back in college. We played it in a jazz combo and I remember it being pretty difficult (luckily I was on drums so I didn’t have to worry about hitting all the changes for soloing). Nevertheless, it stands up to me even today. Lots of songs that I’ve played, or enjoyed, in the past don’t stand up with time or I grow sick of them, but this tune definitely is interesting time and time again. Some really nice playing all around. I only have one reservation about this album. Near the end of the second side, during a really cool piece, they all hit chords and play around on them. During one such chord, Gary plays a few seconds of “Deck the Halls”. It really ruins the mood for me. As a young jazzer, I probably would have loved that and found it super cool, but as I’ve grown, I find that kind of thing to be pretty corny. But it is but a small moment on an otherwise great album, so I can let that go and just enjoy.