Header Quote

"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
— Louis Armstrong

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sympathetic Vibrations

Most people don’t know what a vibraphone is. Why should they? The vibraphone (sometimes called a vibraharp and more often just called “the vibes”) is a niche taste. Classical music has no role for it, and in pop music it once flavored a batch of Motown hits, but that’s it. The obscure theremin, with its leading role in hit songs like the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”, is probably better known.

In jazz, however, the percussive attack of the vibes combines with lyrical beauty, creating something close to logical genius. Only in jazz has the instrument produced virtuosos: Hampton, Milt Jackson, Gary Burton, a few others. But even in jazz, the lineage and use of the instrument is somewhat limited. A few of the great big bands used vibes, but most did not. The legendary small groups, from the Armstrong Hot Seven to the Miles Davis Quintet to the Art Ensemble of Chicago are wholly vibes-free.

Recently, however, the instrument has grown in range and application in jazz. Read my full column on the topic, Sympathetic Vibrations, HERE.

Recent releases demonstrating great work on vibes include Chris Dingman's Waking Dreams, the latest from Gary Burton, and a wondrous new record from John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet, among others.

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