|Corea, left, and Burton tune up for another world tour.|
Gary Burton and Chick Corea have been making amazing music together for nearly 40 years.
Both have carved out impressive solo careers – Burton as the foremost vibes player of his generation, and Corea as a brilliant composer and pianist who moves effortlessly across genres, from bop to free jazz to fusion. And both have played with A-list stars ranging from Miles Davis to Béla Fleck (in Corea’s case), and George Shearing to Pat Metheny (in Burton’s).
But their duets stand apart, a merger of two distinctive voices into something unique and special. Their improvisational skills, near-telepathic communication and willingness to venture into new harmonic and technical territory almost every night are unparalleled in modern jazz, or for that matter, much of jazz history. Just as remarkable is how fresh their work has remained. Most collaborations run their course over time, but Burton and Corea sound as inventive and spontaneous now as when they first started playing together.
In the liner notes for their Grammy Award-winning 2008 release The New Crystal Silence, Burton recalled his initial outing with Corea, a jam session quickie at a jazz festival in Germany. The audience loved it, prompting them to make their first recording together, Crystal Silence (1972). “At the time, neither of us thought it was going to turn into a lifelong pursuit,” Burton wrote. “It was just a lot of fun to play together. But we soon realized that something more was going on.”
What has kept the collaboration alive all this time? “It’s definitely the music,” Burton says via e-mail. “The friendship is fine, too, and we would stay friends even if we stopped playing together. But so far, the music works so well for us that we are always drawn back to working together every year.”
As for keeping the sound vibrant, Burton cites two key factors. “One reason is that we don’t play all year long,” he says. “We set aside a couple of months, usually, to tour and get back into the music. So it tends to stay fresh that way. And we have a very strong rapport that has never left us, too.”
Then there’s the music itself, which rarely sounds the same twice. “We continue to change our arrangements for the first year or so that we perform a new song, making small changes here and there to improve them,” Burton explains. “Even later on, we often go back to an older song and refresh it with some changes to the tempo or the form of the arrangement.”
That’s clear on The New Crystal Silence, which offers fresh takes on two favorites from the original recording: “Señor Mouse” and “Crystal Silence,” the latter recorded live with the Sydney Symphony at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. The double-disc set also includes a tasty sampling of Latin flavors in Corea compositions like “Brasilia” and “La Fiesta,” and nods to two jazz giants, a cover of Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby” and a Corea-written tribute titled simply “Bud Powell.”
However, that’s not what Corea and Burton are playing on the current tour. Instead, they’ve worked up new arrangements of pieces by some of their favorite songwriters. “We decided to chose well-known composers, but not necessarily well-known songs,” Burton says. “We have pieces by Brubeck, Jobim, Kurt Weill, Paul McCartney, Dizzy Gillespie, Monk.”
Burton in particular is no stranger to this part of the world. During the Cold War, he toured extensively through Central and Eastern Europe, and even Russia. Most rock ’n’ roll was banned during those dark years, but the Communists never considered jazz a threat. That was only one of many misjudgments, but it worked to the benefit of legions of fans. And those tours certainly made an impression on Burton.
“Playing in the Eastern countries now feels so different, I can hardly describe it,” he says. “Visually, everything is colorful and attractive instead of plain and drab. The people are more enthusiastic and comfortable with the concert experience. It’s like everything came alive.”
Burton has performed in Prague twice, most recently in 2005 with pianist Makoto Ozone. “Now I get to come with Chick, a whole new experience,” he says. “I’m looking forward to it very much.”
For more on the current tour and the Corea-Burton partnership: http://www.chickcorea.com
For tickets to their Prague concert: http://www.ticketpro.cz/jnp/en/hudba/folklor-etno-world-music/497115-chick-corea-gary-burton.html