Vibraphonist Gary Burton does not come from a conservatory background but with his wide range of musical interests it is not surprising he would finally choose to put his stamp on some compositions from the European classical tradition. Actually, on one of his first records he arranged and composed twelve “semi-classical” pieces for the George Shearing Quintet and woodwinds ( Out of the Woods, Capitol) that included some adaptations of Bach and Mozart. It’s a project he probably doesn’t list in his press releases, but it’s not that bad.
The approach of Virtuosi is to keep the original form and feel in mind while arranging these pieces for theme and improvisation by vibes-piano duettake liberties in the interest of self expression. There is no attempt to reduce anything to a song or “swing the classics.”
Makoto Ozone, Burton's longtime partner, is equally responsible for the success of this project both as arranger and pianist. (Jay Kennedy also contributed four arrangements.) Ozone contributed most on the Gershwin pieces: he gives the “Prelude” a gospel feel; on the “Concerto” Ozone and Burton sometimes accompany each other (They take turns as the orchestra.), sometimes share the lead, and sometimes solo simultaneously. The Confrey piece features some elegant stride piano that sounds fine in context. “Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” a lovely waltz by Ozone, recalls the introverted side of Bill Evans.
The Scarlatti piece sounds suspiciously like an exerciseBurton gives it a send-up with some Latin rhythms. Barber is not often interpreted by jazz musicians. Burton demonstrates that this swirling “Excursion” is very adaptable. It is the most satisfying piece on the CD.
That this music does not sound difficult or technical is due to the abilities of the players. Close listening to pieces like the Rachmaninoff “Prelude” gives the listener a clue to the enormous musicianship necessary to bring off music at this level. Burton and Ozone are “Virtuosi”, but they are more—they are premier artists who bring passion and individuality to their music.
Le Tombeau de Couperin I - Prelude (Ravel); Excursions I, Opus 20 (Barber); Prelude VII, Opus 32 (Rachmaninoff); Milonga (Cardoso); Preludes II (Gershwin); Sonata K20 (Scarlatti); Impromptu (Confrey); Piano Concerto in F - Movement III (Gershwin); Lakme Medley (Delibes); Capriccio II, Opus 76 (Brahms); Something Borrowed, Something Blue (Ozone).