With the recent re-release of Burton's early live Carnegie Hall album ("Gary Burton Quartet In Concert"), this even earlier collection of Burton's music needs mentioning. This CD contains two of Burton's earliest albums. The first is "New Vibe Man In Town", recorded when Burton was 18 years old in 1961. This is his first album as a leader. The other set, "Jazz Winds From A New Direction", from 1960, was recorded when Burton was 17 years old, under Nashville guitarist Hank Garland's name. The tunes range anywhere from 3-4 "stars". It's especially nice (and telling) to play these two albums, and then listen to the 4 CD ECM box set "Gary Burton Chick Corea Crystal Silence", their duo recordings between the years 1972 and 1979. And even so many years later, you can still hear a bit of Burton's early style in his 70's playing.
Both albums find Burton already breaking free from the Milt Jackson/Lionel Hampton/Red Norvo approach to the vibes. Burton, even early on, was beginning to define his own style with the use of his four-mallet technique. This gave the vibes a fuller, more intricate sound-sometimes sounding like more than one player. Even at this stage, Burton had an innate sense of swing, combined with his own ever so slight country influence that is evident in many of his early albums.
"New Vibes..." contains some telling choices in compositions. Included are tunes by trumpeter Clifford Brown, arranger Arif Mardin, composer/arranger David Rose, pianist Marian McPartland, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, and a few others. Picking highlights is difficult-every song has something to recommend it. But "Joy Spring" and "Minor Blues" are simply terrific period jazz-well played and they swing. And listen to "So Many Things". In this tune you can hear Burton's sound that he would use throughout his first several albums. Burton's rhythm section on this album is Joe Morello-drums, and Gene Cherico-bass, and they support Burton very well throughout the album. Apparently Burton had first album jitters, and wanted players he could depend on.
"Jazz Winds...", besides Burton's vibes, focuses on Garland's guitar work. Known more for his country style, he nonetheless plays some very fine jazz guitar, complimenting Burton's style. The rhythm section consists of Joe Benjamin-bass, and Morello (again)-drums, both from Dave Brubeck's quartet. Both Garland and Burton play off one another, trading choruses to good effect on this album. The Burton-Garland composition "Three-Four, the Blues" is a gently swinging tune with both players trading solos. Also included are compositions by Hammerstein II-Kern, Irving Berlin, Boots Randolph, and Denzil Best-known more for his playing than his writing. A highlight would have to be "Riot-Chorus", almost eight minutes of swinging jazz.
The booklet contains a 2010 interview with Burton, and a synopsis of his early work. The original liner notes for both albums are also included, along with a couple of reviews of both albums from Down Beat magazine. Both album covers are here in color (The "New Vibe Man..." cover is especially cool), along with some small b & w photos of the principal players. All in all, for something as "old" as these albums are, the presentation is well done.
This set has the sound and feel of youthful exuberance running all through it. The tunes are well chosen, the rhythm sections are just right for both Burton and Garland, and Garland was a good fit for Burton during this period. If you're curious about Burton's early sound, check this out. It's full of great swinging, rhythmic jazz from the early 60'.