Cheap press release stuff first: guitarist Julian Lage (rhymes with French plage
) is some years short of twenty-one; and barring Burton, the other group members look even younger. But seriously, he's a stunning musician: hear his empathic interaction with Burton toward the end of Neselovskyi's "Prelude for Vibes."
There's a plethora of such details throughout, like the silent space at the end of the guitar solo and the ensemble winding down to very end of "My Romance," to say little of its harmonically startling opening. Just as the bassist's deeply bluesy "'Ques Sez" turns churchy in the course of Burton's solo, the range within each performance matches the resourceful variety of repertoire.
Neselovskyi's a remarkable pianist: Ukrainian-born, raised partly in Germany, at home with blues, funk, and Latin, with an extra Middle European dimension. It's like John Lewis' classical one, but with Slavic and Romantic harmonic and rhythmic extension and the rest further extending the band's palette. Neselovski may be the decisive individuating presence. Alain Mallet's "A Dance for Most of You" sounds like Bach in a Kiiv (foreigners say "Kiev") accent. The MJQ wouldn't have existed in vain enyway, but their legacy's developed here without abandonment of General Mojo's well-laid plan.
You can guess the general pace and rhythm of Lage's "Walkin' in Music," but Curtis' bass in ensemble and in solo there demonstrate already mighty depths. While he and the drummer are all you could ask for, they both promise still more. Neselovskyi's solo on "Walkin.'.." attains an unbelievably refreeshing metrically freedom.
"Summer Band Camp" recalls Burton's former flowered shirt and youthful curls, but from when he had no Ukrainian pianist playing Cubano figures. Lage matches even the towering guitarists Burton has recorded with, combining some of them with Wes Montgomery, Herb Ellis, and a range of contemporaries who themselves might well feel challenged.
The MJQ is suggested again by "Fuga," on a theme from Samuel Barber, beginning with vibes/piano counterpoint, then building up with contributions from the guitarist and solid bass and drums. Burton's a very passionate player these days, and everything's infused with such spirit that this performance goes all the way to completing a cathedral worthy of the great jazz fugue-constructor Mal Waldron.
The vibes/guitar duet on Lage's "Clarity" emphasises the Spring and Summer feel, a mid-tempo darling on which each man gives the other's solo marvellous accompaniment. Bands combining such individual talents have to excel together to prevent listeners from pining for more of any individual member. Burton, long notable for appearances in a wide range of company, might here have found one group able to handle much of the variety of his earlier career. His choice of existing compositions is brilliantly ingenious, but the new players here already show a remarkable capacity to generate new material. Curtis, Lage, and the especially distinctive Neselovskyi are represented as composers.
Burton's not the only mature player in the quintet, and youthfulness isn't confined to the other four guys. Forget for the moment all the clichés about promise; this set marks the generation of some achievement.