When Crystal Silence first appeared in 1972 on the ECM label, its cover photograph depicted a stellar shot of the sun, which appeared to be setting. That duet album featured two already-seasoned jazz veterans who were in their thirties, and had been part of many of the developments in the music for a decade. Corea's credits included Miles Davis, his own Return to Forever, the "Is" sessions, Circle, and many others; Burton's included tenures with George Shearing and Stan Getz as well as Larry Coryell. But the duet album they recorded for ECM was so utterly striking and arresting because it highlighted not only an entirely new way of playing duets between piano and vibes -- which had been done previously and well by others -- but a new way of hearing them as well.
After 35 years, five duet records, and countless tours together, the pair revisit the notion of the duet in two different contexts on this delightful, compelling double-disc package from Concord. The first disc finds the pair playing live in Sydney with that city's symphony orchestra conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer and arranged by Tim Garland. The program includes five tunes, all of them composed by Corea. While it is disconcerting on first thought as to how an orchestra could add to the special intuitive communication this duo has developed since its first accidental performance at a festival in 1971, those fears disappear quickly after the orchestra's intro, when Corea's piano makes its entrance and Burton responds. It's striking there was so little rehearsal time, and that Garland's arrangements are so spot-on and attuned to the intricacy of what happens harmonically between these two. "Duende" opens the set with an enormous introductory sweep that feels more like a crescendo, but it gives way within two minutes to the exploration of extrapolated minors when Corea plays a single note that initiates his speaking voice on the piano. Burton answers and moves them into another direction, painting from the inside and pulling on certain notes as he quotes a melody that feels strangely like "The Shadow of Your Smile." Then the pair are off, the orchestra brooding and shimmering behind them, opening up spaces where there would be tension in such a focused space of minor keys that sweep this way and that way, and then they engage fully with the orchestra. This continues through "Love Castle" and the speculative intro to "Brasilia," which feels like a question. The rhythmic interplay is built layer upon layer, however sparely by the harmonic striations of vibes and piano as strings hover and cautiously seem to follow into a much more romantic and exotic flight of fancy. Of course, the title track, while seemingly an entirely new piece when played with this symphony, is no less limpid than its predecessor. The compositional notion is simply eased into more tentatively, but the interpolations between Burton and Corea are even cannier than one might expect. Everything begins in shade and shadow and is revealed in the full light of day. The set ends with a driving rendition of "La Fiesta," begun with an intensely intricate series of counterpoint exchanges between the pair.
Disc two contains a live performance from the Molde Festival in Norway, with one cut, "Señor Mouse" (also from the Crystal Silence debut), recorded in the Canary Islands. Far more breezy but perhaps more taut and far less tentative, the set starts off with Corea's "Bud Powell," and Burton shines with his solo, moving through the lyric phrases as Corea punches in spaces with tough, jaunty chord masses. It swings like crazy before giving way to a stellar reading of Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debby." The melody, instantly recognizable in Corea's hands, is nonetheless a bit heavier in touch, but that's what makes it sound new as well. The solo he opens with carries the basic lyric frame in his two-handed chords and runs before Burton slides the melody in solo, as expressive and intimate as one could ever hope for before it opens wide and sings. This happens on the other standards here as well, the deeply emotive reading of "I Loves You, Porgy," with Burton's solo as tender as a singer emoting the words, and "Sweet and Lovely," where the pair just dig in and let the tune guide them on a wonderfully engaging, swinging ride through its harmonic possibilities. The other four Corea tunes here include a very different version of "La Fiesta" as a set closer; "No Mystery," which is more mysterious in some ways because of its use of arpeggios, space, and counterpoint; and the all-too-brief rhythmic invention of "Alegria." The bottom line, of course, is that this set, as different as its two mirroring discs are, is nearly magical in both its intensity and creativity, and in its wonderfully relaxed manner of walking through the deep passageways of improvisation. Anyone who is a fan of the duet recordings between these two should own this. Anyone not familiar should check out the ECM disc first, and then move straight here, filling in the gaps later. They are wonderful counterparts to one another and immensely satisfying listens.