[Review] Gary Burton: The Groovy Sound of Music (1965)

Gary Burton and Gary McFarland generate some very cool vibes with this jazzy take on the musical.

Kronomyth 4.0: Songs for swinging elevators.

I have a shocking confession to make: I have never seen the stage or film production of The Sound of Music. Fortunately, I’m in good company: neither had Gary Burton when he recorded this album of songs from the musical. (In fairness, the film wasn’t even released at the time of this recording.) Now, Burton has gone on to distance himself from this album, which was recorded at the request of RCA as part of a broader promotional effort (they had just bought the rights to the music from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical). No matter the origin or Burton’s ennui with the whole thing, The Groovy Sound of Music is as swinging a romp through the Austrian Alps as you’ll encounter.

Gary Burton did have a say in the choice of arrangers, and brought in one of the other bright young stars on the vibraphone, Gary McFarland, to arrange and conduct half of these songs. Burton has since gone on to express some displeasure with McFarland’s arrangements, but I personally prefer McFarland’s lush, south-of-the-border style. Not for nothing were his arrangements of Climb Ev’ry Mountain and The Sound of Music selected as bookends to the album; they leave a lasting first and last impression.

Joining Burton on this session are Steve Swallow, Phil Woods, Bob Brookmeyer and Joe Puma, the latter a last-minute, self-appointed surrogate by Jim Hall. While they step up in the mix occasionally, the focus is on the young, four-malleted phenom as he unpacks and unfolds these lovely, timeless melodies from Richard Rodgers. RCA obviously wasn’t the first to recognize the merits of Rodgers’ music in a jazz setting; John Coltrane had recorded the definitive jazz version of My Favorite Things several years earlier. But you don’t get to hear jazz interpretations of Maria or An Ordinary Couple very often, and Burton’s solo take on Edelweiss is uniquely his own.

Sure, The Groovy Sound of Music isn’t the most serious album of music that Gary Burton has made. In fact, it might be one of his lightest entries. But I think it’s an excellent showcase for the vibraphone in a jazz setting, and the added presence of McFarland makes it something of a summit for the instrument. It’s great music to clear away the blues or simply to clear out the cobwebs of how you remember these songs and hear them anew.

Original elpee version

A1. Climb Ev’ry Mountain (4:50)
A2. Maria (3:34)
A3. An Ordinary Couple (4:50)
A4. My Favorite Things (5:55)
B1. Sixteen Going on Seventeen (4:30)
B2. Do-Re-Mi (3:50)
B3. Edelweiss (3:03)
B4. The Sound of Music (5:27)

All songs written by Richard Rodgers. Arranged and conducted by Gary Burton (A2/A4/B2), Gary McFarland (A1/A3/B1/B4).

The Players

Gary Burton (vibraphone) with Bob Brookmeyer (trombone), Joe Hunt (drums), Joe Puma (guitar), Ed Shaughnessy (drums), Steve Swallow (bass), Phil Woods (alto saxophone, clarinet). Produced by Joe René; recording engineered by Mickey Crofford.

The Plastic

Released on elpee mono/stereo in 1965 in the US (RCA, LPM/LSP-3360) and Japan (Victor, SHP-5508). Japanese elpee has unique cover and different track order (swaps A1 and B4).

  1. Re-packaged on 2CD with Something’s Coming and The Time Machine on remastered 2CD in 2016 (Beat Goes On).

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