Gary Burton

For Hamp, Red, Bags, and Cal

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The vibraphone legend calls this wide-ranging tribute collection his most satisfying effort to date (this is a major catalog), and the one that hits closest to home. No doubt that's because he's digging deep into his past and paying homage to the legends of the instrument who shaped his own inimitable style. The four mentioned by the album title all had unique roles in the development of the instrument as a jazz focal point, and it's amazing to realize the vibes were only invented 75 years ago -- just one generation before Burton was born. Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo pioneered mallet jazz; Milt "Bags" Jackson gave it the lyrical phrasing of a horn, achieving a great transformation, and Cal Tjader made it a staple of the cool school and '50s Latin jazz. As a result, Burton can pretty much go wild rhythmically, improvisationally, and stylistically -- the disc rolls like one big mallet party, surprising listeners with where it darts next. The first two tracks, a frenetic rendering of Tjader's "Afro Blue" and a lighthearted skip through "Bag's Groove," set the pace as far as the project's diversity. The Hampton pieces are the moody "Midnight Sun" and feisty, jamming "Flying Home"; Norvo's tunes are the whimsical ragtime influence "Hole in the Wall" and the ambient and experimental "Dance of the Octopus"; Tjader's are the Brazilian fiesta "Joao" and lyrical "Body and Soul"; and "Django" captures the gentle side of Bags. This is a well-rounded jazz disc for even the most casual listener, but it's paradise for a hardcore vibes fan -- a fun, hour-long history lesson on the instrument by a professor who has so beautifully carried on its legacy.

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