Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Thursday, 20 January 2011


One of the purposes of starting this blog was to make me pull out records I haven't listened to in a while.
You probably have records like that yourself. The ones that lurk in the back of the collection, sitting unlistened to for years and years.
As each new record is added to the collection, those that have not had an airing for a while see their chances of being put on the turntable slowly diminish until they must be weeping with frustration.
So it has been with Gary Burton's Time Machine. I bought it on  whim because of the cover (apologies for the dreadful photo). I guess I liked the time-delayed image of Burton playing away at his vibes, his distinctive four mallet technique clearly visible but always wonderfully blurred and confused. If you can see it, at one stage in the photo he has his eyes closed in concentration. I also like his thick glasses with no bottom rim. Cool daddio!
So its a record I got for the cover (not the only one in my collection I can tell you!) but why have I held on to it?
Its on the turntable now and, if you've only hear Burton in his fusion heyday, you would be very surprised to hear how organic it sounds. Of course, as the sleeve notes never tire of telling you, it is not organic. In true sleeve note hyperbole this record is described as "one of the most adventurous recording projects ever attempted". Like WOW! But all the instruments are acoustic - nothing electric just yet.
Recorded in 1966 this record slightly predates what is often referred to as the first fusion record, Duster which he recorded with Larry Coryell as well as Steve Swallow (who plays bass on this record) and the wonderful Roy Haynes in 1967.
But Burton's fascination with taking jazz to its outermost regions is evident here but mostly by his use of the studio to create music that is impossible to create live. The 'fusion' elements of his music that he is perhaps most well known for - the inclusion of rock and country influences-  are nowhere to be heard. Unless one includes his cover of Norwegian Wood!
Burton was a teacher at Berklee during the sixties and seventies and it was at Berklee that he met Mike Gibbs. Gibbs is from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and has produced some amazing music in his own right - I am sure we will get round to one of his records soon. He has also composed some pretty amazing stuff for Burton down the years.
This record has two compositions from Gibbs, the very short Childhood - which is very uncomfortable and I hope not at all like either Gibb's or Burton's childhood. However, Deluge is a different kettle of fish. Also slightly off-kilter but in a much more interesting way. Burton's vibes are very evocative of running and bubbling water. The sleeve notes go into great lengths to describe the studio wizardry that went into making the track - I won't bore you here, suffice to say the finished product could not be reproduced live!
The final track, My Funny Valentine is one of the highlights of the record. It truly sounds nothing like any of the versions you've ever heard before.
And in many ways this track sums up what this record is about. Burton had just come from playing with Stan Getz and was about as deep into the West Coast jazz scene as it was possible to be. You can hear that in his playing sometimes - and surely his choice of Jobim's Chega De Saudade owes something to Getz's dalliance with bossa? And My Funny Valentine has impeccable West Coast credentials having been recorded by Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and of course Miles Davis.
But overall there is so much more going on with this record. It's ethereal slightly other-worldly sounds, its  overdubbing and technical wizardry, its jerky rhythms and lack of melody take it far away from any cool West Coast sounds and into some very pleasing experimental regions.
Its not a record I would play often. There's something just too unformed and searching about it, something that is not quite fully formed, its a record that is not quite comfortable in its own skin. As clever as it is, as experimental and deliberately difficult, its not quite there. 
Should it be sent back to the wilds of the back of the record collection? Or worse, should it be ejected entirely?
What do you think?


  1. Great record! I agree with your criticisms of it, but "Six Nix Quix Flix" and "Sunset Bell" are great tunes, worth holding onto the record in my opinion. Hope you still have it!

  2. HI Matt - thanks for the kind words
    I do still have it and I think I will be keeping it more at the front of the collection than languishing at the back!

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