The album at hand is Gary Burton's 1973 Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra, Music by Michael Gibbs (ECM 1040). If I am not mistaken Gibbs and Burton attended Berklee School of Music at the same time in the early sixties. They came to know one another and appreciate each other's considerable talents. Gary had performed Michael's music on records before 1973, but the Seven Songs project was their most ambitious collaboration to date.
The Gary Burton Quartet with Mick Goodrick on electric guitar, Steve Swallow on electric bass and Ted Seibs on drums formed the core group around which was arrayed a chamber orchestra composed of members of the NDR Symphony Orchestra Hamburg, conducted by Gibbs.
The music contains one short piece by Steve Swallow ("Arise, Her Eyes"), the rest Gibb works. "Throb" was well known from an earlier album, the rest I believe were recorded here for the first time.
Gibbs' arrangements for the orchestra are quite stunning and set off the quartet's playing in ways that give greater sonance to both. Burton's excellent vibe tone melds with strings particularly well. Yet it is equally true that the entire quartet plus orchestra create a sonorous whole that in the hands of Manfred Eicher's production vision outshines what either of them might do on their own.
The songs, the treatment-arrangements and the performances all come together for a remarkably absorbing listen. By the end of 1973 the idea of a "Third Stream" may have been cast aside, yet perhaps ironically some of the most successful ventures in combining classical and jazz were either in the works or yet to come.
Most certainly this album constitutes one of them. It is extraordinarily beautiful music that loses nothing with the years that have intervened. It sounds as fresh and central as if it were done yesterday. Hear Seven Songs!