In 1972, vibes player Gary Burton was incorporating rock and other musical influences into his work with the Gary Burton Quartet, while pianist Chick Corea was forming the seminal jazz fusion group Return to Forever. That year, at a Munich jazz festival, an impromptu jam session between the two led to the ground-breaking duet recording Crystal Silence. Since then, Corea and Burton have worked on several more duet albums, including Duet (1979), In Concert: Zurich, October 28, 1979 (ECM, 1980), Native Sense: The New Duets (1997), and The New Crystal Silence (Concord Jazz 2008). Their latest CD, Hot House, marks the 40th anniversary of Corea and Burton’s partnership. For more on Burton’s perspective on his career and his collaboration with Corea, read Part 1 and Part 2 of my interview with him.
The Hot House track list reflects the eclectic influences of both players, mostly focusing on lesser known jazz and Broadway standards. The collection opens with the 1929 showtune “Can’t We Be Friends.” Corea preserves some of the stride piano feel and fills from an Art Tatum recording. The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” receives an uptempo, Latin-tinged treatment, while Corea provides an insistent, eighth note-filled undercurrent bass lick.
Both players spent time playing with Stan Getz, and Antonio Carlos Jobim is represented by two numbers – “Chega de Saudade,” credited as the first bossa nova song recorded, and “Once I Loved.” Both begin with a ballad-style introduction before segueing into the signature Brazilian rhythm.
Bebop is represented by the title track, the Tadd Dameron classic based on the chords of “What Is This Thing Called Love,” and Thelonious Monk’s “Light Blue.” Corea and Burton manage to maintain the herky-jerky feel of “Light Blue” without resorting to the characteristic Monk heavy-handedness. The duo shows their more lyrical side on Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered,” the beautiful Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond melody “Strange Meadow Lark,” and the Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin composition “My Ship.” Finally, the two are accompanied by the Harlem String Quartet on a Corea original, “Mozart Goes Dancing,” which combines classical motifs and Latin rhythms.
The duet format, and the way that Corea and Burton execute it, poses some interesting questions. It’s a bit like listening to a dramatic play on the radio – the listener needs to fill in the picture. It creates extended intricate interplay between the two virtuosi (and these two are among the best in their fields). It allows for multiple, subtle tempo changes within a single song – shifting from swing to stride to Latin, etc. Personal chemistry certainly counts in the success of the collaboration, as evidenced by their tight harmonizing and the way each player seems to anticipate the other’s improvisational direction.
Additionally, both musicians have characteristics that aid in their playing. Corea has always been known for his precise attack and strong rhythmic foundation, which helps the listener fill in spaces. Burton’s mastery of the four-mallet technique helps him provide strong rhythmic support during Corea’s solos.
But the duet setting poses difficulties as well. It requires more patience and concentration from listeners. Partly because of the interplay between Corea and Burton, and partly because some of these songs do not have familiar melody lines, It will be difficult for many listeners to distinguish between introduction, melody and solos. If you’re not familiar with a particular song, I recommend you find the original version of it on YouTube or your favorite music provider and then compare it with the version found here.
If your idea of a jazz song is two solo choruses sandwiched between the melody, you’ll probably want to take a pass on this CD. But if you have the patience to delve further, and explore the interactions and chemistry between two masters, Hot House has much to offer to jazz aficionados.