The New Crystal Silence by Chick Corea and Gary Burton – reviewed by Chris Mann

It would probably be pointless for me to tell you about the careers of master pianist/composer Chick Corea and master vibraphonist/composer Gary Burton. Let me just say that 35 years after their collaboration, which led to the original “Crystal Silence” began, they are back (enlisting the help of the Sydney Symphony) to underline the strength of their musical partnership and the timelessness of the compositions.

Disc One is recorded live with the Sydney Symphony and opens with Duende. The song is languid and dreamy and the orchestra makes its mark immediately. Then Corea’s solo piano and later Burton’s vibes take this to a more sombre place. These solo and orchestral phases are interposed throughout. For me, the beauty comes initially from the purity of the sound they generate. Love Castle has far more orchestral dynamics and spirited interplay between Corea and Burton in the second half of the song. It’s good to hear a tune you know well, restructured in this way.

There are many blue moments on the lovely Brasilia which takes twists and turns and is, well, heartbreakingly beautiful in parts. Here the piano and vibraphone solo separately, like the voices of lovers who act as one yet remains individuals. It’s a true meeting of jazz and classical and it brings tears to the eyes. You’re immediately drawn into Crystal Silence, with its orchestral strings in turn mournful and sinister. Yet even in the midst of the orchestra’s grand mood-setting and the improvisation, the main theme emerges like an old friend after some minutes. Pat Metheny in his liner notes talks about how the music evokes endless time and space and I find it hard to think of a better way to describe the impact which this piece has, when you let it take you away.

The intro to La Fiesta teases us with broken phrases of vibraphone and piano – very avant-garde. It builds to the familiar main theme and becomes more passionate. Some of the orchestral passages are very flamboyant. Some of the solo piano is very complex and it’s fortunate that the main theme is reintroduced as often as it is, because there are times when the music is challenging.

Disc Two is purely a two-man affair and was recorded live in Norway and Tenerife. Bud Powell is a playful duet where the two players bounce off each other throughout this bluesy romp. On the gorgeous Waltz for Debby I particularly like the vibraphone work and this tune becomes light-hearted and lots of fun.

The opening of Alegría is reminiscent of Jamie Cullum’s version of “I Could Have Danced All Night” where it sounds like the piano becomes a percussion instrument. Two minutes into this piece, I finally realised that Chick Corea doesn’t sound like any other pianist I’ve ever heard – and that’s a rare thing to find. I hear the thread running right back to the early Return To Forever recordings. Talking of which, the intro to No Mystery doesn’t beat around the bush. It’s intricate and the doubled piano and vibraphone lines are precise, but it feels like an old friend. It’s gorgeous and I think it’s my favourite track on the album.

I love the version of Señor Mouse, which is very true to the version I first heard on Al Di Meola’s superlative “Casino” album. It’s very energetic and fun. Duet playing doesn’t get tighter than this! It’s also hard not to smile when you listen to Sweet and Lovely. I find myself wishing there were a bass player to make this swing even more, but I never miss a drummer because their timing is superb.

How nice to hear George and Ira Gershwin’s I Love You Porgy in the midst of the other elegant music here. It’s very romantic and, combined with Sweet and Lovely, provides a lovely, reflective phase before the frenetic closer… The shorter rendition of La Fiesta on Disc Two is more focused than the one featuring the orchestra. The main theme and the thrilling, giddying carnival atmosphere it invokes are maintained throughout.

This is a set which will require two or more careful listenings to have maximum impact and for the listener to appreciate the orchestral scoring and the improvisational skills of two players who really are at the top of the tree. Finally, after over 30 years of listening to Chick Corea, RTF and his Elektric and Akoustic bands, it’s struck me that his playing can be elegant and mischievous at the same time. His sound is unique and several of his compositions truly can be called standards.

As for Gary Burton, his sound continues to enchant and I’ll be digging out my copy of “Cool Nights” and his superb “Reunion” duet with Pat Metheny any day now.

Together they produce two hours of masterful one-on-one, cat-and-(Señor)mouse improvisation. It’s all here…


Concord CCD2-30630 Producers – Chick Corea and Gary Burton