When you think of the mechanics and the organics of the vibraphone, you may be readily excused for assuming they are less than tameable. Being an instrument that sits in the company of the other very illustrious instruments of the percussion section of a band or orchestra, you could be excused for assuming that they will simply sound as good as they are hit. But that would be so wrong an assumption.
The vibraphone, under the touch of the mallets in the hands of one of the great charmers of the instrument, Gary Burton, becomes a soundscape of a liberated palette of emotional expression. The need to impress upon the instrument the beauty of emotion and sentiment challenged Burton, and he developed a two-mallets-in-each-hand technique that broadened the scope of playing the vibes. It’s a kind of pianist’s sensibility, a four-mallet style, opening up a lyrical field with seemingly limitless colour and feeling.
Learning to Listen is the name of Burton’s autobiography, and even by title it defines him, his style, his respect, and a sweetness of the quality of his attentiveness. You can tell from a single track that he listens — not only to the music he’s playing but to its stories. When playing with others, he listens for ways to tell the stories with them. From care and respect, the sound is what happens under the touch of the mallets in the hands.