It's rare that a group can reunite to create what it had decades ago while remaining completely fresh and relevant. When guitarist Pat Metheny regrouped the Gary Burton Quartethis training ground, beginning in his late-teens, from 1974- 1977as one of his By Invitation performances
at the 2005 Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, it was clear that this was something that couldn't be a one-shot deal. The quartetfeaturing original members Steve Swallow
(electric bass) and Burton (vibes) alongside drummer Antonio Sanchez
(a newcomer to the group, but an ever-present partner with Metheny since the guitarist's Speaking of Now
(Warner Bros., 2002))was simply having too much fun. Regrouping a couple years later for a lengthy tour, the resulting Quartet Live
not only documents the tour, it's the live album Burton never put outbut should haveback in the day.
More than a look back at the three ECM albums that Metheny recorded with Burton Ring (1974), Dreams So Real (1976) and Passengers (1977)Quartet Live recaptures the decade from 1967-77 where Burton's groups always included a guitarist, from Larry Coryell, Samuel T Brown and Jerry Hahn to Mick Goodrick and, finally, Metheny.
While Metheny has grown tremendously since those early days, becoming a modern icon in his own right, Quartet Live proves the timeless nature of Burton's always astute musical choices, ranging from Keith Jarrett's delicate ballad, "Coral" and the dark-hued grace of Metheny's "B and G (Midwestern Night's Dream)" and Carla Bley's "Olhos de Gato," to the fiery energy of the guitarist's "Missouri Uncompromised," Bley's equally burning "Syndrome" and Swallow's lithely swinging classic, "Falling Grace." There's even a rare Burton tune included, the quirky blues "Walter L," and a nod to Duke Ellington with the Latinesque "Fleurette Africaine (Little African Flower)" and longtime duet partner Chick Corea, with the lengthy opening workout of "Sea Journey."
The nearly 80-minute set also demonstrates how close to perfection Burton's groups from that era were. Sanchez may not have been around at the time (he was not yet three when Ring was recorded), but he fits like a glove, weighing heavily on the cymbals just as Bob Moses and Danny Gottlieb did, but still injecting his own distinctive strength into the mix. Swallow's electric bass tone is richer and fuller than it was back in the day, combining with Sanchez to provide a weightier bottom end without diminishing the wonderfully ethereal, mellifluous and lyrical combination of guitar and vibes.
If there's one misstep with Quartet Live it's a small one. The inclusion of Metheny's enduring "Question and Answer"as ever a feature for the guitarist's horn-like guitar synth at its climaxseems slightly out of place with the more rarified ambience of the rest of the disc. Still, there's nothing wrong with a little modernistic heat to finish off the set, and while it's perhaps not the perfect choice, it does absolutely nothing to mar the exhilaration of hearing Burton, Metheny and Swallow reunite for a set of music that hasn't aged a day in 30+ years.
Visit Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow and Antonio Sanchez on the web.