I'm surprised that no one has reviewed this two album set of some of Burton's best early work. Maybe it's because fans already own these two albums and know how good they are. Hopefully this isn't one of those releases that seems to fall between the cracks. The tracks range from 3 to 4 "stars", so judge for yourself. "Lofty Fake Anagram" (LFA), was one of the very first "real" jazz LPs I ever bought. It looked intriguing so I thought I might take a chance. Was I glad I did. Up until then I'd only heard Milt Jackson play the vibes, so my ears were opened considerably when I heard this album. This album (and it's companion in this set) is from Burton's early years. He had recorded a couple of albums, with different personnel, including the album "Duster", which has some fine playing on it. What's truly needed is a box set that encompasses all of Burton's work form his earliest (RCA/Atlantic) days, up to his ECM recordings. That label has released a very fine (but not all encompassing) box set of Burton's work for the label.
"LFA" is (arguably) Burton's best early studio album. The playing is simply immaculate on all counts. Burton's vibes have that pinpoint sound, yet there's a relaxed warmth to his sound, even when playing up tempo. Bob Moses' drums and cymbal work complement Burton (and the rest of the group) perfectly. Steve Swallow was one of the best double bass players in jazz-he's now one of the better electric bass players and a composer of some note. And there's Larry Coryell. His playing is a perfect match for Burton's, and his solos are always well thought out and intuitive. Together their music was close to what was then just becoming jazz/rock-without the volume and pyrotechnics that came to define that style later.
There's many highlights throughout this album. Listen to "June The 15, 1967", "Feelings And Things", "Lines', "The Beach", or "Good Citizen Swallow" for great examples of what this group was capable of, both together and solo. The compositions are by Micheal Gibbs (2), Ellington (1), Burton (3), Swallow (2), and Bley(1). Taken as a whole this is some good, intuitive, intelligent, yet warm jazz of the period. If you've only heard Burton's later work, check this set out.
"A Genuine Tong Funeral" is an album that some fans have shied away from for some reason. Maybe it's the title ("Chinese music?")-it's not. Conceived for a stage performance (yes)-but it's known as a stand alone jazz work. And finally, "it's Burton's group with an orchestra" (yes)-but that small orchestra only colors the sound, and adds to Burton's playing. And with this piece written by Carla Bley, you know it's intelligent, impressionistic, and sometimes moody. And when you listen to this set you'll hear that Bley's work is along the same lines as Burton's synthesis of various jazz styles of the period.
Check out "Morning (Part One)", "Interlude: Lament/Intermission Music", or "Fanfare/Mother Of The Dead Man" to hear the blending of jazz styles and ideas. Burton's playing is clean, precise, and beautiful in this early stage of his career. The rhythm section is on top of things perfectly-whether it's in a quartet setting or with a larger ensemble. Larry Coryell's guitar adds stabs of beautiful notes throughout that make you want to hear more. This is impressionistic music-sometimes in a lighter vein, sometimes darker in tone and weight-but it's filled with emotion.
So if you're wondering what Gary Burton and his band sounded like early on-this is a good place to start. Hopefully "Duster" will be reissued soon for another great look into Burton's early music. But for now, these two albums have stood the test of time, and the juxtaposition between the two makes for some good listening. And now with Burton's only live early set just reissued, fans have a chance to hear that side of this fine group. This set, combined with the live set will give you a good idea of what Burton and Coryell sounded like in the late 60's era.