When they teamed up in 1972 to play in a piano-vibraphone setting, little did Chick Corea and Gary Burton realize that 35 years later their duo would continue to expand its modern chamber music approach to jazz with full introspection and exhilaration. Even though their serendipitous debut, Crystal Silence, was released on Germany-based ECM Records, which at the time did not have a distribution deal in the U.S., the album not only forged the alchemic partnership, but also brought to renown the deep and insightful collaboration of the two virtuosic improvisers. After their premiere outing, they recorded four more albums and have never skipped a year performing together.
In celebration of the Corea-Burton duo's 35th anniversary, Concord Records releases The New Crystal Silence, a double CD featuring the pair performing with the Sydney Symphony and as a duet captured in a sublime performance at the Molde Jazz Festival in Molde, Norway. The orchestral concert bears the fruit of an invitation from two symphonies in Australia, in Perth and Sydney, which offered the twosome the opportunity to perform and record their repertoire in an orchestral setting. As for the duo disc, Corea and Burton marked their long relationship onstage of anticipating each other's musical ideas by embarking on a worldwide tour and then chose one of their best performances to document.
Writing in The New Crystal Silence liner notes, Burton reflects, "I've always held the theory that all musical collaborations, particularly among jazz musicians, eventually run their course as players evolve and everyone moves on to new ventures. But, I've come to believe that what Chick and I have together is going to break that rule. The performing we have done over the past year has been our best in 35 years, and we are very pleased to make it available on these CDs." He adds, "We both feel that our music has evolved in the last 10 years more than it did before. We play the tunes very differently, with fresh concepts and new inspiration."
Corea agrees: "The way we were approaching the music during our 35th anniversary concert tour was so different that I thought it warranted documentation." In the CD liner notes, he adds, "Gary's playing continues to amaze and inspire me. The tours we've done over this past year are my favorites of all that we've done. There's more to come, but here is a slice of what we're into these days."
On the opening CD, recorded May 10 and 12, 2007, at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, Corea and Burton are accompanied by the Sydney Symphony, which was celebrating its 75th anniversary. The orchestra was led by guest conductor Jonathan Stockhammer, an American from Los Angeles who lives in Berlin, and who, says Burton, "was very in tune with the music-with its feel and the stops and starts of the arrangements." The music was orchestrated by Tim Garland, the saxophonist for Corea's band Origin. "I originally wanted to do everything-the writing, the arranging, the orchestration-but because of Gary's and my tour schedule, there wasn't enough time," says Corea. "That's when I thought of Tim, who had helped me rehearse and edit my second piano concerto the summer before. Tim has a special genius for orchestrating. He took the ball and ran with it."
The material presented to the Australian orchestras included new arrangements to such Corea compositions as "Duende," "Love Castle," Brasilia," "Crystal Silence" and "La Fiesta," which represented music the piano-vibes duo has performed on their earlier albums, including Duet (1979), In Concert, Zurich (1980), Lyric Suite for Sextet (1982) and Native Sense-The New Duets (1997). "This was pretty much an experiment," says Corea. "But the performances were spirited, exciting. The tempos were bright. Plus, there was the buzz of newness."
In the second CD of The New Crystal Silence collection, Corea and Burton deliver new spins on such old duet material as "La Fiesta"-the very first tune the pair played in 1972 for their first onstage performance, at a jazz festival in Munich, before the Crystal Silence recording-and Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debby." In addition, they perform Corea's "Alegria" and a new rendition of Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy." "We wanted to connect with the audiences by playing familiar material for the fans of our duet," says Corea. Burton adds, "We decided that the purpose of our 35th anniversary tour was to reflect back on our years together."
The daunting challenge in presenting a live duo disc was to choose which show from its 75-concert tour to showcase. "We had scores of performances to consider, but we finally recalled the Molde show," says Corea. "Even though the piano there was unusually small, there was an extra magic happening that night, from the beginning to the end. Gary's vibes sound so relaxed, so nice." Burton recalls that the performance space was intimate-a 400-500-person hall-and that the sound was ideal. Plus, he says, "the audience was very knowledgeable about the music we were playing. They reacted well, which makes a big difference. Chick's compositions are complicated, and because we play it from memory, on some nights we make mistakes. But this night we were infallible."
Corea noticed that the only thing missing from the set that night was one of the duo's favorites, "Senor Mouse," so they included in the CD mix a take on the tune recorded at Tenerife, Canary Island.
Writing in The New Crystal Silence CD liner notes, friend and collaborator Pat Metheny lauds the duo's creatively vibrant history and concludes: "When Crystal Silence came out, there was a freshness about it...35 years later, that freshness remains, enhanced by three decades of shared life experiences. There is a sense of infinity and eternity here, as if Chick and Gary could take any worthy piece and play it forever, finding new things each time around. That sense of endlessness offers hope and inspiration. That is the message of this music to me."