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Gary Burton: Forging Ahead

R.J. DeLuke By

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The disk is 11 compositions, all done live, and contains some 80 minutes of music, longer than most CDs. Metheny, Swallow, Bley, Jarrett and Corea are among the composers whose work is covered. There's even an obscure Duke Ellington tune, "Fleurette Africaine (Little African Flower)."

The music follows fairly faithfully what people will hear at a nightclub or festival this year when the band is out on tour. "The only thing missing is about five more songs. We debated whether to make it a double album, but there wasn't quite enough music to stretch it that far. In fact, there's one more track that will be part of the download release that we tried to squeeze (on the CD format), but couldn't. When people buy it online they can get this one extra tune. As it is, it runs almost a full 80 minutes. We even had to sign a waiver from the CD manufacturing company in case there were complaints about the disc not playing on some older CD players. Pat said he's had that happen before a couple of times and there was never any problem. So we went a head with it, because we liked the order of it and we didn't want to cut out another song."

The band is strong. Burton is dreamy and ethereal on slower tempos and hot as hell when needed. Metheny, of course, eats up the music, showing his ever-fertile imagination. Swallow is driven, as always, and Sanchez adds the right fire and textures all throughout.

In the past, "I wrote some for my group, but I'm not a major composer, in terms of quantity output, in that I don't get that much enjoyment out of writing," says Burton. "I've always felt my pieces really don't compare strongly to those of my favorite composers among my friends. So when I say, 'Should I play my tune or should I play theirs,' I end up playing theirs. A lot of the songs that I wrote during the years I had a band often were to fill out the project. We'd get to the end of a project and we'd need one more ballad, or one more blues tune or something. I'd go home at night and make something up and we'd put it on the record. But it rarely was one of the standout tunes.

"The inclusion of 'Walter L' [Burton's only composition on the recording] was because it's a big favorite of Pat's. That was Pat's favorite record of mine when he was in high school learning to play. It was dedicated to Hank Garland, the guitarist that I started my career with when I was 17. His real name is Walter L. Garland. I named the song in his honor. It's just a blues head. That was Pat's first request when we started to do this. So we included it for that reason."

The CD has various musical flavors from mellow to scintillating. Bluesy to intricate. "I always strive for a range with my band," Burton says. "I like bringing in different stylistic influences. My band was the first to start mixing the genres. That is now pretty common. But I was bringing in tunes that were rock-and-roll influenced, country influenced, even classical influenced, into our jazz band. I was hot on that idea. I was 24 or 25 when I started my band and that was my concept.

"I got the idea partly from Stan Getz, when I played with him previously. I noticed he had found this great combination of Brazilian music and jazz. I said: 'OK, You can blend other kinds of music into a jazz situation and have something come out nice.' I came up surrounded by country musicians. I got my start in Nashville. I was very influenced at that age by the Beatles and Bob Dylan, who were brand new on the scene at that time in the mid-'60s. I was drawn to bringing that kind of music into my group's repertoire. That's why [the new CD] bounces around a lot from one piece to the next."

Music and Metheny

Speaking of his preference for a wide range of musical styles and influences, Burton notes "I had kind of a confrontation once with (record producer) Creed Taylor, who approached me about doing a record for his label back in the '60s. He had listened to two or three of my records. He picked out two or three songs he felt had the right combination of what would be most commercial. His concept, as he presented it to me, was: 'We want to do album that sounds just like those songs.' I just couldn't figure out how to deal with that. It was so opposite of my approach to making music.

"My main performing situation was playing in front of audiences and the challenge with that is to keep the audience's attention. You don't do that by playing one after the other that all sound the same. You had to change things up constantly. Change the volume level and the pace and the type of song. Some are energetic, some are beautiful, some are melancholy. You have to constantly change the moods and what's going on onstage to hold an audience. I continue to make my records that way, unless it's a really unusual special project. My instinct is to program it like a performance."

He jokes that in today's music scene, such careful planning of presentation on a recording may all be for naught.

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