Jazz CD Reviews

The New Gary Burton Quartet – Guided Tour – Mack Avenue

Gary Burton: 50 years as a jazz artist and still going strong.

Published on September 23, 2013

The New Gary Burton Quartet – Guided Tour – Mack Avenue

The New Gary Burton Quartet – Guided Tour – Mack Avenue MAC1074, 64:49 [8/6/13] ****:

(Gary Burton – vibraphone, producer; Julian Lage – guitar; Scott Colley – bass; Antonio Sanchez – drums)

It has been a great year for Gary Burton fans. The famed vibraphonist released the sophomore album from the New Gary Burton Quartet, the ten-track, hour-long Guided Tour, which came out in early August. His autobiography, Learning to Listen: the Jazz Journey of Gary Burton, was published in early September. He commenced a 12-city American tour to help promote the new record. He also picked up a Grammy for Hot House, his 2012 pairing with Chick Corea. Quite a year and it is not yet over. Guided Tour is the follow-up to Common Ground, which introduced Burton’s newest group: Burton on vibes, Julian Lage (the fast-rising guitarist has also worked with Fred Hersch, Taylor Eigsti and David Grisman), bassist Scott Colley (Christian Howes, John Scofield and Joshua Bell are just some of the musicians he has performed with) and drummer Antonio Sanchez (who has previously collaborated with Colley and since 2002 has been part of Pat Metheny’s various ensembles). FYI: for those who note such events, Guided Tour marks the first time in over three decades Burton has formed a group which has created two consecutive recordings without a change in personnel.

As explained during a six-minute promotional film, Guided Tour is a continuation of the musical ideas, comradeship, and cooperative character of Burton’s latest band, and showcases the unity forged by being on stage and finding the melodic chemistry which can be elusive to discover. That simpatico symbiosis is inherent on the ten pieces: two by Sanchez, one by Colley, three by Lage, two by the usually restrained Burton (he rarely brings his own compositions to recording dates), and two covers. Sanchez’s complex, post-fusion “Caminos” opens the disc. This driving number, with a modal undertow, has an interesting 6/8 arrangement with a Latin feel, splashy and swinging. Following a portion of involved starts and stops, “Caminos” eventually proves to be a blues with a minor key, where Burton and Sanchez both get loose and animated. Sanchez’s other contribution, “Monk Fish,” is a romper which has some recognizable chords and is pervaded with a sardonic humor reminiscent of some of Thelonious Monk’s bop-era constructions. Lage flies along at a frenetic pace, and displays his restless but spot-on style, which lies somewhere between acoustic and electric, akin to Jim Hall but with more attention to intonation (equivalent to what Burton does on vibes), and Lage typically leans closer to the acoustic aspect. Lage’s three creations demonstrate a maturing nature. On the post-bop, bluesy “The Lookout” he shrewdly restructures Hall’s “Careful” (a tune Burton knows well, since he joined Hall during a live rendition which can be heard on Hall’s 1990 Live at Town Hall, Vol. 2). “Sunday’s Uncle” has a rock-tinted and melodically challenging arrangement, where Lage plays a canny melodic theme with unerring ease, while Burton does a less stressful counterpoint: the result is a dynamic, thorough exchange. “Sunday’s Uncle” also emphasizes Lage’s stylistic perseverance in executing clean guitar lines with no effects, while he provides intricate chords. Lage’s final piece is the Spanish-soaked “Helena,” which has multilayered rhythms, vibrant harmonies, a bit of Metheny-esque tonality in one section, and a gradual build-up which bursts at the conclusion.

Burton’s two offerings are tributes, of sorts. First there is enigmatically-titled “Jane Fonda Called Again” (maybe it refers to Fonda’s jazzercise workout program). This jazz waltz has a spirited stance intentionally comparable to pianist Bill Evans’ quirky side. On the other hand, there is no mistake about “Remembering Tano.” This poignant tango was penned for the late Astor Piazzolla (whose nickname, Tano, hinted at his Italian heritage), who passed away in 1992. Burton was a huge Piazzolla admirer and their 1986 undertaking, The New Tango, was a vital world-music exploration. It features Colley’s lovely arco and an exquisite, weaving melody. Colley’s lingering ballad, “Legacy,” is also an homage to the departed, in this case Colley’s recently-deceased father. “Legacy” is an expressive highlight, suffused with delicacy and moderation: the sensitive interaction between bass and vibes is tenderly melancholy in the best way possible. “Legacy” has an emotional connection which runs parallel to another refined tune, “Once Upon a Summertime,” co-authored by Johnny Mercer and Michel Legrand, which also has another Bill Evans association: Evans did this with Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund on a 1964 duet date. The other interpretative vehicle is a flexible rendering of Hersch’s “Jackalope,” which has a stimulating arrangement with a harmonically ornate head, and vigorous Lage and Burton solos.

TrackList: Caminos; The Lookout; Jane Fonda Called Again; Jackalope; Once Upon a Summertime; Sunday’s Uncle; Remebering Tano; Helena; Legacy; Monk Fish

—Doug Simpson

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