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Dreams So Real - Music of Carla Bley CD
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Part of the new 'Touchstones' series of specially-priced and newly packaged albums from ECM's back catalogue. All featuring the original artwork and brand new packaging - double cardboard sleeves reminiscent of the original LPs.
Gary Burton - (vibraphone), Mick Goodrick - (guitar), Pat Metheny - (electric 12-string guitar), Steve Swallow - (bass), Bob Moses - (drums)
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This is the Burton quintet I saw live way back when. (It was the second time I’d seen him live. First was the Stan Getz quartet, performing in Central Park, in 1967(6?).) Burton always had a special relationship with guitarists, especially in those days, all the way back to Hank Garland and Chet Atkins on his Nashville + jazz recording, Tennessee Firebird, Through Larry Coryell (I’d seen Coryell play in the Free Spirits, possibly America’s first jazz fusion group) and to Sam Brown, Jerry Hahn, Goodrick, Metheny and soon after John Scofield (and recently Julien Lage). Add the guitar(s), Burton’s vibes, to Swallow’s mellowed out but sophisticated electric bass lines and driving drumming, earlier Roy Haynes and then Bob Moses, and you had a flexible ensemble that could play laid back and up with equal poise –as demonstrated by this album.
This album never garnered the critical applause I felt it deserved. Critics in Downbeat and the Penguin guides damned it with faint praise as too mellow to excite, saw it as a lesser product of a superior group. I didn’t, and don’t, feel that way and buying this, my second copy of the record to replace the vinyl one, gives me the opportunity to praise it. To start with, there was a faintly muted, maybe restrained, quality to the playing on all of Burton’s group recordings of the period. That’s true even of his two clear masterpieces of that era, the rock-oriented Duster (which doesn’t sound very rock oriented at all now, except for the rock-inflected guitar of Coryell) and Country Roads and Other Places (my favorite Burton album) with its more overt country flavor. Even in the hands of an extrovert player like Lionel Hampton, the vibes are soft, not hard: the vibes sound easily melts into other sounds around them, so that using other soft-toned strings –guitars—to fill out the harmonic side of the ensemble makes sense. Secondly, this album isn’t as muted as it appears to be at first. The first tune, “Dreams So Real,” is mellow. (Lovely, too.) But listen to the second cut, which starts with Bley’s odd-boppish “Ictus” and segues into “Wrong Way Donkey,” one of my favorite tunes by Bley. Listen to Burton’s solo on “Ictus” and tell me he can’t breathe fire: it is a fast ride and well worth repeated listening as an example of modern vibes playing. I think what hurt the record from the critics’ standpoint was a certain uniformity of sound to it but the quality of the composing (Bley’s) and the soloing (Burton’s, Metheny’s, Goodrick’s, Swallow’s, even Moses’s) lifts it above ordinary.
If you expect lots of soloing from the guitarists here, sorry. They are mostly playing a supporting role, with a few solos on selected songs. The support is well done, and the few solos are great.
I guess that the focus here should be on the composer - these are the best settings of Carla Bley songs I've ever heard, and they are performed magnificently. Gary Burton's playing is wonderful.
I would have given it five stars if he had allowed the other musicians (including the rhythm section) some more freedom here.
That's in part because ECM personally is his own record producer/engineer,
a fact most people don't grasp.