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Gary Burton Quartet: New York, NY, September 21, 2011

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Gary Burton Quartet
Blue Note
New York, NY
September, 21, 2011

Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton
1908 - 2002
vibraphone
carved out a place for the vibraphone in a swing setting, and Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
1923 - 1999
vibraphone
brought the instrument into bop, but Gary Burton
Gary Burton
Gary Burton
b.1943
vibraphone
remains the guru and guiding light in virtually every other aspect for vibraphonists and fans the world over. As a visionary educator, he helped to make Berklee the place to go for aspiring jazzers, and as a performer, he's redefined the very way the vibraphone is played. His four-mallet grip and stunning technique pointed the way to a more pianistic approach for vibraphonists everywhere, and his influence looms large over every aspiring vibes player who came into being in the past four or five decades. While countless other vibraphonists active today—from elder statesmen like Bobby Hutcherson
Bobby Hutcherson
Bobby Hutcherson
b.1941
vibraphone
, Teddy Charles
Teddy Charles
Teddy Charles
1928 - 2012
vibraphone
and Mike Mainieri
Mike Mainieri
Mike Mainieri
b.1938
vibraphone
to younger trendsetters like Stefon Harris
Stefon Harris
Stefon Harris
b.1973
vibraphone
and Jason Adasiewicz
Jason Adasiewicz
Jason Adasiewicz

vibraphone
—have left a lasting impact in different ways, Burton is in a class all his own.

During this visit to New York's Blue Note, where this quartet first came together nearly a year earlier, Burton brought forth a set of music that churned, swirled and glowed with clarity and energy. The first set on the opening night of a four-evening run featured nods to vibraphone forefathers, with a Cal Tjader
Cal Tjader
Cal Tjader
1925 - 1982
vibraphone
-associated "Afro Blue" opening the set and Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
1923 - 1999
vibraphone
's signature "Bags' Groove" serving as the show-ending encore, but original works from the quartet's Common Ground (Mack Avenue, 2011) proved to be the main attraction. Bassist Scott Colley
Scott Colley
Scott Colley
b.1963
bass
's "Never The Same Way" began with interlacing rhythms that seemed random at first, but quickly connected in logical fashion. Guitarist Julian Lage
Julian Lage
Julian Lage

guitar
delivered nimble, single note lines as he moved all over the neck and, on this song and elsewhere throughout the set, he showed a strong kinship with drummer Antonio Sanchez
Antonio Sanchez
Antonio Sanchez
b.1971
drums
. Sanchez continually supported him, while simultaneously egging him on with his polyrhythmic drumming spree.

Throughout his career, Burton has developed a reputation for launching the careers of guitar greats, from Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
to Kurt Rosenwinkel
Kurt Rosenwinkel
Kurt Rosenwinkel
b.1970
guitar
, and Lage is now part of that exclusive club. While the guitarist is only in his early twenties, he's musically mature beyond his years and he's forged a special musical relationship with Burton over the past decade. Lage was visibly taken with Burton's playing on the set opener and they both walked the tightrope together on their first public performance of Lage's "Etude." When musicians boast about the difficulty of a piece of music, it's often only hyperbolic chatter about something that's more likely to challenge an audience than the person playing it, but that wasn't the case here. "Etude" was the only number in the set that, literally and figuratively, caused Burton to sweat, as he delivered vertigo-inducing, single note lines that were broken up in odd fashion across his four mallets. While a small, noticeable slip up near the end caused him to briefly pause before returning to the fray, it proved inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

After that nail-biting performance, the band slowed things down with a wonderful take of Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
's "Light Blue," but the heat returned with the Sanchez-penned "Common Ground." Burton delivered his strongest solo of the evening on this one and the icing on the cake came with Sanchez's solo, as the drummer spread his impressive single stroke patterns atop an evolving series of vamps from the band. "Bags' Groove" ended things on a more traditional note, but the quirky counter-figures that played against the melody helped to give it a more modern look.

While some musical performances are merely a series of sounds, this one was an all-out aural epiphany for those lucky enough to hear it. This is Burton's best band in years and one can only hope that they stay together for awhile to capitalize on what they already have going.

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