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New Gary Burton Quartet: San Diego, California, October 12, 2011

Robert Bush By

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New Gary Burton Quartet
Neurosciences Institute
San Diego, CA
October 12, 2011

Vibraphone master Gary Burton has returned to the guitar quartet, a format that has served him well since his early recordings with Larry Coryell in the '60s, and especially with Pat Metheny in the '70s. His current group was born about a year ago, when he began touring with drummer Antonio Sanchez, double bassist Scott Colley, and protégé Julian Lage, a guitarist of infinite potential.

A scheduling conflict led to an important, one-night only substitution—Sanchez had a prior commitment with Metheny for a gig in Poland, and was spelled by the wonderful Peter Erskine, who has his own history with Burton.

Burton first heard Lage on TV when the guitarist was only 11 years old, and such an impression was made that the veteran bandleader found himself calling Lage's parents to ask if "Julian could come out and play," said the vibraphonist. But since then the guitarist has been finishing his music studies, and became available only after he graduated last year—hence Burton's return to the guitar/vibes/bass/drums assemblage.

The concert began with a dynamic reading of conguero Mongo Santamaria's classic, "Afro Blue," after a long, rubato introduction by Burton. Fifty years after he pioneered it, his mastery of the four-mallet technique is still amazing. When Lage took over, his clean tone—unadorned save for a hint of reverb—and his monstrous chops, were immediately apparent, as in the ease and clarity of the injections of blue-notes into his dialog.

Back in Burton's early quartet music, he often instructed his bass players to avoid the use of "walking-bass" patterns. That was important then to avoid the "conventional" jazz aesthetic. Thankfully, those days are gone. The use of standards, too, was often verboten in the early days—another attempt at avoiding clichés. Thankfully, Burton has gotten past all of that now, because the group's exploration of standards was nothing short of stellar, and often provided the most engaging moments of the concert.

Colley once studied with iconic bassist Charlie Haden at Cal Arts, and that influence is one of the reasons his music and approach are so compelling. He began his original, "Never The Same Way," with a low-toned soliloquy that was probing and measured—allowing each note to sing before letting loose with flurries of multi-note ideas, bluesy slurs and finally, a medium swing ostinato.

After a brief exchange with Lage, whose guitar wove filigree in and around the bass, twisting like a double helix, Burton entered with the harmonized melody and a complete story of a solo, in which long, intricate lines ascended into exclamation points of lushly voiced chords.

Erskine's pinpoint cymbal pings and occasional snare drum chatter served the propulsion factor well—and, when his feature emerged, it began quietly with rim shots careening off every edge of his tiny kit, before raising the roof with a gun-battle series of slamming accents.

"I Hear A Rhapsody," came off with all the swing and clarity of the Modern Jazz Quartet with someone like Grant Green sitting in on guitar. In that respect, Lage is closer to Pat Martino than he is to Metheny, with lots of staccato repetitions and chromatic ornamentations. His solo began with long stretches of paraphrased melody, interspersed with strands of chord-toned ideas that seemed to fly off of his fingerboard.

Burton was very generous throughout the evening to Lage, even leaving the stage entirely with Erskine and Colley in tow, to let the guitarist shine with a long a cappella spot. It was alternately inspiring and confounding: at 23, Lage is raging with chops galore and ideas that seem limitless. Learning how to best harness those attributes, however, is an art that's very much still a work-in-progress for the guitarist. As impressive as it was, scaling back the ambition of it all and some self-editing would have made that spot unforgettable. Touring with a master like Burton will take care of that in due course, though, and Lage appears inexorably headed to higher places.

Everything clicked when the band played pianist Keith Jarrett's rock and gospel-inflected piece "In Your Own Quiet Place," from the 1970 Atlantic recording , Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett, with guitarist Samuel T Brown, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bill Goodwin. It was a delicious bit of nostalgia that seemed symbolic of Burton's long journey through modern, creative music making, especially his halcyon days in the 1970s with the German record label ECM.

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