Jazz CD Reviews
The New Gary Burton Quartet – Common Ground – Mack Avenue
Published on June 25, 2011
The New Gary Burton Quartet – Common Ground – Mack Avenue MAC1061, 65:56 ****:
(Gary Burton – vibes, producer; Julian Lage – guitar; Scott Colley –bass; Antonio Sanchez – drums)
Gary Burton loves the sound of guitar and vibraphone playing in the same group. He’s stated “the sound of the two instruments together has an ideal timbre and coolness.” On Common Ground, Burton once again returns to the guitar/vibes format – with able assistance from a new quartet – and the results are stellar and splendid.
The New Gary Burton Quartet was formed last year for a memorable Red Sea Jazz Festival concert, a weeklong Blue Note engagement and a December 2010 studio date which brought about the quartet’s inaugural album, Common Ground. Burton’s latest configuration utilizes the in-demand bassist Scott Colley, who also leads his own group; noted drummer Antonio Sanchez, who has worked with Pat Metheny and has previous ties to Burton; and wunderkind guitarist Julian Lage, who as a child prodigy appeared on Burton’s projects Generations (Concord, 2004) and Next Generation (Concord, 2005).
Common Ground is the foursome’s debut for the Mack Avenue label and the focus is on interaction, communication, improvisation and composition. Despite Burton’s leadership position – he also acts as producer – Common Ground features material written by all members as well two numbers by former Burton sideman Vadim Neselovskyi (who can also be heard on Generations), one by Keith Jarrett and a Rodgers/Hart standard is also included.
The opener, Neselovskyi’s optimistic and sprightly “Late Night Sunrise,” sets the mood for the proceedings. Burton’s signature sound and tone is upfront with meticulous phrasing, a warm pulse, flawless command and inspired soloing, which is matched by Lage’s stylish guitar. Burton’s rhythmic excellence is complemented by Colley and Sanchez’s seamless time-keeping and high-level bass/drums partnership. That’s followed by Colley’s only contribution, the relaxed 7/4 composition “Never the Same Way,” where Lage and Burton delve into and expand on the tune’s main motif. Lage in particular renders striking moments while Colley adds a moving bass solo which is emotive as well as vigorous.
Burton returns to his roots with his sole offering, a delicately noir-ish and yet more spacious reading of “Was It So Long Ago?,” an Astor Piazolla tribute originally heard on Burton’s 1988 GRP release Times Like These. This irresistible lyrical tango substantiates why Burton should write more often. Lage takes the role initiated by John Scofield and Lage proves he is as good an interpreter as any guitarist Burton has employed. Burton’s past also resurfaces on two other tunes. First there is a rendition of the Rodgers/Hart classic “My Funny Valentine,” which Burton estimates he has done before at least four times. This version is a first-rate platform for Lage, who has an extended introductory solo section. The standard was specifically shaped for live appearances – it is an audience favorite at each concert – and thus has become the quartet’s star showpiece. Common Ground closes with Jarrett’s “In Your Quiet Place,” which Jarrett wrote for Burton back in 1970 and can be found on the 2005 CD reissue of their 1971 collaboration. Listeners should note this is the first time since the early 1970s that Burton has played this ballad in a band format. It’s well worth revisiting.
Lage brings two works to the table. Lage’s complex, arpeggio-driven “Etude” started as something for a possible practice piece for Lage’s students but Burton convinced Lage to open up the arrangement: it now contains an intricate, quick-fire preface, a Spanish-seasoned middle section which displays Lage’s guitar skills, and an ear-catching vibraphone solo. The lanky “Banksy,” too, began as a probable study sample. Here, Colley exhibits a dislocated bass rhythm while Lage instigates a darting quality which echoes the dark humor and satirical edge of the English street artist the tune’s title is inspired by. Sanchez’s input is superb as well. The title track was composed with Burton in mind and perceptibly encapsulates the spirit of Burton’s earlier quartets. The fast-clipped “Did You Get It?” uses a 12-bar blues form to advantageous effect and has one of Sanchez’s finer drum improvisations as well as a discerning back-and-forth Lage/Burton dialogue.
1. Late Night Sunrise
2. Never the Same Way
3. Common Ground
4. Was It So Long Ago?
6. Last Snow
7. Did You Get It?
8. My Funny Valentine
10. In Your Quiet Place
— Doug Simpson