[Review] Gary Burton Trio: New Vibe Man in Town (1961)

The 18-year-old vibraphonist from Indiana comes out swinging on his first session as a leader.

Kronomyth 1.0: Good vibes rations.

Gary Burton was only 18 years old when this album was recorded in the summer of 1961. Barely out of school, only a year of Berklee under his belt, Burton quickly insinuated himself into the NYC jazz scene as a vibe player worth watching. Together with bassist Gene Cherico and Dave Brubeck drummer extraordinaire Joe Morello, the trio appeared on Burton’s debut as a leader, New Vibe Man in Town, and Morello’s solo album of the following year, It’s About Time.

Although Burton opts for standards over originals, his first album reminds me a lot of Herbie Hancock’s debut album, Takin’ Off. Both are talented beyond their years, jazz albums that are conventional but confident, with established players to lend the sessions that gravitas withheld from youth. Their career trajectories took them in different musical directions, but Hancock and Burton were part of a new breed of jazz musicians that boded well for the future.

New Vibe Man in Town is a fun, breezy album that greatly benefits from the interplay between Burton and Morello. At several points, Morello upstages the junior Burton with his inventive playing, and rarely did I enjoy Burton’s soloing without thinking how well Morello’s playing complemented it. Cherico’s bass is fine in a supporting role but the rare solos that he gets are undermiked.

After the freshness of the opening Joy Spring hits you, the rest of the record has few surprises. That’s not a knock on the album, but a testament to its consistency. The Trio’s versions of Over the Rainbow won’t change your world, and I’ll take Bill Evans’ version of Like Someone in Love any rainy day, yet not everything has to be heavy in this world. The lightness of Burton’s playing is a kind of joy in itself, and with Morello and Cherico swinging behind him, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself while the disc is spinning.

Is it an important record? As an introduction to the music of Gary Burton, yes. Is it a landmark recording in jazz? No. The later albums have more to offer in terms of depth and development, but that Burton is a prodigious talent is as obvious as a flying mallet on this debut.

Original elpee version

A1. Joy Spring (Clifford Brown) (3:35)
A2. Over the Rainbow (E.Y. Harburg/Harold Arlen) (4:18)
A3. Like Someone in Love (Johnny Burke/Jimmy Van Heusen) (3:02)
A4. Minor Blues (Arif Mardin) (5:27)
B1. Our Waltz (Nat Burton/David Rose) (4:28)
B2. So Many Things (Marian McPartland) (4:10)
B3. Sir John (Richard Mitchell) (4:03)
B4. You Stepped Out of a Dream (Gus Kahn/Nacio Herb Brown) (4:26)

Expanded, remastered elpee version
A1. Joy Spring (Clifford Brown) (3:43)
A2. Over the Rainbow (E.Y. Harburg/Harold Arlen) (4:24)
A3. Like Someone in Love (Johnny Burke/Jimmy Van Heusen) (3:08)
A4. Minor Blues (Arif Mardin) (5:33)
A5. Three-Four, the Blues (Gary Burton/Hank Garland) (4:01)
B1. Our Waltz (David Rose) (4:33)
B2. So Many Things (Marian McPartland) (4:17)
B3. Sir John (Blue Mitchell) (4:13)
B4. You Stepped Out of a Dream (Gus Kahn/Nacio Herb Brown) (4:31)
B5. All the Things You Are (Oscar Hammerstein II/Jerome Kern) (4:29)

The Players

Gary Burton (vibes), Gene Cherico (bass), Joe Morello (drums). Produced by George Avakian; recording engineered by Ray Hall.

The Plastic

Released on mono and stereo elpee in 1961 in the US (RCA Victor, LPM/LSP-2420).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (RCA Camden, RGP-1100).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in July 1994 in Germany (BMG/RCA, 21828-2).
  3. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in 1995 in the US (RCA, 52420-2).
  4. Re-released on expanded, remastered 180g vinyl elpee in 2015 in Europe (Jazz Wax, JWR 4562) with 2 bonus tracks.
  5. Re-issued on compact disc on November 11, 2015 in Japan (Sony, SICJ-84).

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