At 75, Gary Burton—a jazz giant since his teens—is one of the few musicians for whom a five-disc career retrospective seems too tiny. This is, after all, a man who not only led a pioneering fusion group with Larry Coryell rocking out on guitar, but was also equally at home playing with Stephane Grappelli or Astor Piazzolla. He recorded Carla Bley’s first concept album, A Genuine Tong Funeral, and introduced the jazz world to Pat Metheny, Mick Goodrick, and Julian Lage. And that doesn’t even begin to consider his career as an educator at Berklee.
He’s a virtuoso, no doubt, stunningly capable on all mallet percussion and also a fine keyboardist (although this set is solidly mallets-only). But as Neil Tesser points out in his liner notes, Burton was also a virtuoso improviser, blessed with impeccable phrasing, a kinetic sense of rhythm, and the ability to corral all those licks and flourishes into a narrative flow that ensured, as Tesser puts it, “he tells strong stories.”