Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow, and Antonio Sanchez – Quartet Live – Concord Jazz CJA-31303-02, 79:20 ****:
(Gary Burton – vibes, producer; Pat Metheny – guitar, producer; Steve Swallow – electric bass; Antonio Sanchez – drums)
There is a definite sense of anticipation for this album and the tour it documents. Quartet Live includes three former Gary Burton Quartet members (Metheny, Swallow, and Burton), as well as Metheny’s current drummer, Antonio Sanchez. Bassist Steve Swallow joined Burton’s group in 1967, while Pat Metheny was a member from 1974-1977. When the new Gary Burton Quartet was formed one result was this concert memento, which is stimulating and eminently well-adapted to modern listeners’ needs or demands.
Quartet Live edits the best bits from a late spring 2007 two-night stay at Yoshi’s, Oakland’s celebrated jazz club, where many stellar live performances have been recorded. The program benefits from a wide musical selection, including material penned by Carla Bley, Chick Corea, Duke Ellington, and the quartet musicians.
The evening commences with Corea’s "Sea Journey." The lengthy piece has an exotic, moist melody defined by Metheny’s gossamer guitar that starts out sounding like the strings were soaked in salt water but subsequently glints with a dryer timbre, while Burton’s glistening vibes engender a likeminded underwater sensation. As the song develops, Swallow adds a bass solo that angles toward the melody’s lower end. During the nine-minute length, Metheny explores various expressive ranges, providing swift melodic turns, and transitions.
Bley’s unruffled ballad "Olhos de Gato" is up next, which has a gentler and lingering perception. Burton serves a self-possessed solo, and then Metheny renders some poised guitar. In contrast to the burnished, nautical sparkle of "Sea Journey," the quartet savors a languid coolness, creating a slo-mo relaxation. Burton kicks in extended, rippling solos while Sanchez maintains a bubbling rhythm accented by his bright cymbals. The foursome sustains an elegant sensibility on Jarrett’s understated ballad, "Coral," which supplies an easygoing familiarity brought forward by Metheny and Burton’s unhurried contributions. The recital’s genial nature is carried onward during Duke Ellington’s ballad "Fleurette Africaine (Little African Flower)." While the deliberate pace is emphasized by a mellowing vibraphone improvisation, it is not downcast, particularly when Metheny slips in a potent guitar break.
Swallow takes center stage on his flexible and swinging "Falling Grace," where the groove grows fast and furious. Swallow’s electric bass moves from frothy to springy, and he and Metheny trade some wild, humorous intervals. The energy level rises again during Burton’s fusion frolic, "Walter L." The bluesy and blustery discourse nostalgically looks back to Burton’s late sixties jazz rock history. Swallow and Sanchez lay out a funky and percolating bedrock, while Metheny donates some distorted rock-rooted riffs.
A bit later, the set once more flies into high gear on Metheny’s "Missouri Uncompromised." While Metheny and Burton both offer rapid-fire guitar and vibes harmonizing, it is Sanchez’s accelerated and molten drumming that is a highlight. His solo is exhilarating and precisely controlled but at the same time demonstrates an unhindered imagination.
The gathering finishes with three crowd pleasers. Swallow’s jaunty "Hullo, Bolinas"* is an uplifting cut fronted by Burton’s cheerful vibes and Metheny’s equally carefree guitar. The momentum picks up steam before ending as it began, with modest instrumentation. Bley’s "Syndrome" is a heated ramble, where Metheny burns through some fleet-fingered fret runs, Burton echoes with some pendulant, four-mallet fare, and Swallow and Sanchez keep the beat flowing strongly. The closer is a 13-minute treatment of Metheny’s timeless "Question and Answer," a prominent exposition that accentuates Metheny’s brass-like guitar synth (he generates an authoritative workout farther into the song), and affords abundant room for Sanchez, Burton and Swallow to take varied exceptional solos.
As a live recording Quartet Live is a vividly realized outing. Engineer David Oakes captured the complete sweep of the proceedings, from Swallow’s rich and full bass tone, to the lyrical guitar and vibes duets, and Sanchez’s assorted changes, from mellifluous cymbal splashes to romping snare and bass drum hits.
1. Sea Journey
2. Olhos de Gato
3. Falling Grace
5. Walter L
6. B and G (Midwestern Night’s Dream)
7. Missouri Uncompromised
8. Fleurette Africaine (Little African Flower)
9. Hullo, Bolinas
11. Question and Answer
— Doug Simpson
[* = Probably a reference to the fact that the reclusive residents of the little village on the ocean just north of San Francisco keep hiding the road sign that leads to them…Ed.]