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The partnership of Chick Corea and Gary Burton dates to 1972, when the two jazz veterans (now in their 70s) teamed for the brilliant and beautifully spacious piano/vibraphone duet album Crystal Silence.
The alliance has been rekindled numerous times since then, most recently on 2012's Hot House, but both players return this summer with separate projects that reflect the stylistic paths they have followed apart from each other.
Pianist/keyboardist Corea quickly became one of the leading voices of the '70s jazz fusion movement after Crystal Silence and has since juggled myriad ensemble sounds that have shifted from strong post-bop tradition to a continuance of his electric adventures. His new album, The Vigil, explores a bit of both.
The music abounds with Corea's trademarks — an affinity for rapid and playful melodies (especially in the bass lines), Spanish-inspired accents and a vocabulary that dances between bop and fusion. But as electric exercises go for Corea, The Vigil is a relaxed affair. He dabbles with synths at times but favors far more a mix of grand piano and the Rhodes-style keyboard sound that has long been a trademark since the early Return to Forever records that came on the heels of Crystal Silence.
There are attractive cameos by longtime RTF bassist Stanley Clarke and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane during Prayer for Peace, a fine tribute to the latter's legendary father, John Coltrane. But the interplay between Corea (on acoustic piano) and expert New York drummer Marcus Gilmore (grandson of Roy Haynes, with whom Corea first recorded in the '60s) propels the tune and the album's more traditionalist angles. Similarly resourceful is saxophonist Tim Garland (a holdover from Corea's '90s band Origin) who confidently takes the reins during the boppish turns from the album-closing Legacy, the tune that offers the most savory mix of Corea's contemporary and traditional visions.
Burton left go of fusion long ago (listen to the reissued edition of 1970's Good Vibes for a glimpse of him rocking out). Since Crystal Silence, he has been an educator and band leader with a keen ear for new talent (among his discoveries is Pat Metheny) and a glowing, growing sense of the cool he pioneered for the ECM label in the wake of Crystal Silence.
Guided Tour is the second album credited to the vibraphonist's "new quartet." What results is the fluid, alert communication that is the product of solid band spirit. You hear it in the crisp dialogue that Burton and guitarist Julian Lage engage in during Jane Fonda Called Again and the rugged change-ups from drummer Antonio Sanchez (a Metheny protégé) that keeps Guided Tour moving ever forward.
Walter Tunis, contributing music writer