Scott Burns Quartet
June 25, 2008
It was a muggy summer night, but the streets were bustling with activity. I made my way into Andy's Jazz Club located in downtown Chicago at 11 E. Hubbard St., just west of Michigan Ave. The spacious venue was alive with a contagious energy. The waitress asked where I wanted to sit. I scanned the room, noticing seats near the stage area, and told her right up front. Her eyes suddenly very brigh, she said, "All right! Right up front, most people don't say that." She led me to a seat near the drums.
Scott Burns, saxophonist and leader of the quartet, was fingering with his horn. Pianist Jordan Baskin's eyes were imaginatively attentive as his hands were already in place waiting. Drummer Brian Ritter was warming up with his sticks and brushes while bassist Mike Arnopol was thumbing through a few notes.
The ensemble began with Wayne Shorter's "Mr. Jin" and "Dance Cadaverous," offered as a gift to a thankful and ardent audience. Next, a beautiful arrangement of Horace Silver's "Summer in Central Park" was a showcase for the group, demonstrating its skillful ability to turn this tune on its head. Their arrangement was mouth-watering and infectious, the sheer lush-like movement wondrous and heavenly.
Burns performs with the intensity and earnestness of the jazz giants of the 1960'sJohn Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and Sonny Rollins. Just as each of these musicians is unique in his own right, Burns played with a correlating personal mission to spread a passionate and pertinent message. The essence of jazz was pouring from his horn in every measure of music.
Baskin on piano showed he was no stranger to straight-ahead with chord progressions that were spiritual and reflective. He is spontaneous and innovative in his approach with arpeggios, adventurous ideas but always supporting the other musicians.
The enticing format continued with a Jackie McLean tune "Blue Fable" in an impressive arrangement, after which the Denzil Best bebop piece "Move" left me unable to movespellbound by the intensity of Ritter on drums and Jordan on piano, whose solo performances set the room ablaze with soul. Next, Wayne Shorter's composition "Edda" was intuitively played, the thread of its soul and jazz essence never broken. Trumpeter Kenny Dorham's tune "Brown's Town" received a tasteful reading, and a Harry Warren ballad "This Is Always" was not only well executed but sheer pleasure for the listener.
It can be difficult to articulate the mutually felt joy and connection between the ensemble and audience. The heart of jazz demonstrated its capability of immersing and caressing the listener like nothing else standards that are timeless and lovely jazz that never changes its message of love, longing, euphoric bliss, and, anguish.
One could hear light conversation throughout parts of the room, but the focus was on the sax, piano, bass and drums, which together soared, taking the listener on beautiful and endearing tunes from the past transformed by innovative arrangements. The attention to the phrasing and style of bebop was ever present throughout the evening while the quartet easily switched gears to familiar and welcome melodic, harmonic and lyrical qualities on standard tunes.
One of my all-time favorites was performed by special requestthe John Birks (Dizzy) Gillespie celebrated bebop anthem "A Night in Tunisia." The familiar opening rhythmic figure was introduced by Arnopo's bass, which was superb and steady from intro to the closing coda. My reaction to the performance could only be articulated in one phraseOMG! It was the most authentic and respectful performance of the tune this reviewer has heard. Burns and his ensemble guided the listener every step of the way, right up to the brink of inspiring revelation. It was an authentic embodiment of bebop, convincing testimony that "Bird lives!"
The night consisted of three glorious sets of equally inspired music. Andy's Jazz Club is one of Chicago's oldest jazz clubs as well as a wonderfully inviting space. If you're in the Chicago area, particularly the downtown area immediately north of the Loop, look no further than Andy's for early or late-night Jazz, a drink or informal dining at moderate prices, and history. And be prepared for high-spirited fun and some illumination. And if you're in need of straight-ahead and heartfelt standards placed by an ace Chicago group, check out Scott Burns and his ensemble, on CD or in a Chicago-area club.