Detroit Jazz Festival: Detroit, MI September 2-5, 2011
Touring in support of their debut record, Common Ground (Mack Avenue), released earlier in the summer, The New Gary Burton Quartet pits veteran vibraphonist Gary Burton on the frontline against young guitar phenom Julian Lage, with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez in the back, keeping the music together and often sharing solo space through invigorating trades.
At least that's how it played out on this afternoon. Sticking mainly to the music on the record, the group highlighted counterpoint, while producing a highly melodic, bluesy whole. Burton started the show alone, cloaked casually in jeans and a blue hoody owning to the sudden fall-like temperatures. With his four mallets ringing, Burton tapped clear single notes into romantic, flowing lines, weaving a melodic tapestry staked with echoing chordal tones. Lage likewise favored melody, if with a fat, electric sound that left residual drag on otherwise free-flowing guitar playing. His solo intro to "My Funny Valentine" was the marvel of the set, as he strummed, flat-picked and finger-33picked his way through at least five minutes of fluid, exploratory music, a smile regularly breaking on his lips as if Lage was as surprised and delighted as anyone to hear where his fingers had taken him.
The guitarist's somewhat harsh, aggressive tone brought greater distinction between himself and Burton than is evidenced on the recording. But the pair still worked wonderfully together. Colley's tough, sometimes grubby bass also played well as a grounding element to Burton's wistfulness, as did Sanchez's rumbling percussion (though the drummer too frequently tapped off zinging notes from his piggybacked splash cymbala tone sounding like that of a stretched metal cable springing loose, arriving in the music at the oddest times). Still, altogether, the music was delightfuland delightfully inventive. On this afternoon, The New Gary Burton Quartet certainly declared itself a new force to be reckoned with in the world of jazz.
Pianist Helen Sung joked that her latest project "Sung with Words" sprang from memories of childhood teasing over her last name. "What did you sing today, Helen?" the other kids would ask her. It was time to finally make her last name work for her, Sung said.
And so the second half of her 75-minute program featured singer Carolyn Leonhart, lending her deep, clear voice first to "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing," then to a few songs inspired by the poetry of Dana Gioia (and his translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's "Entrance") and Langston Hughes, ending with an appropriately light, romantic rendition of Wayne Shorter's "When You Dream," a piece Sung said she admired for its positive message.
Earlier, the pianist had injected her warm, gentle playing into her own works of positivity: "H-Town," an homage to her hometown of Houston, "Hope Springs Eternally," which she attributed on this day to the Obama presidency (the president appearing a few blocks away earlier in the day), and "Glass Work," an ode to Philip Glass that featured Reuben Rogers' cello-sounding, bowed bass. Splitting the two halves of the program was "In Walked Bud," which found Sung at her most energetic, pushed on by drummer Rudy Royston's roiling support. The whole was a spirited journey that for all its positive leanings never became flighty, but rather bubbled with authentic exuberance, even as the festival moved into its final hours.
All Photos: Matt Marshall