There used to be jokes (a very inaccurate description- the last thing they ever were was funny) describing what heaven and hell and hell might be, making the best, or the worst, use of the talents and skills of European peoples. As in: “heaven is where the trains are run by the Germans, the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian etc. Hell, topically, might be where all the banks are run by the Irish.
Festival-induced tiredness brought out a completely sideways thought during last night’s set by Gary Burton’s new quartet with Julien Lage on guitar, Scott Colley on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums.
That thought was that heaven could well be a band led by Gary Burton, and in which the bass player is Scott Colley. Last night’s quartet had a perfect collective etiquette, ethos or spirit which comes from deep in Burton’s personality, experience and way of working. He switches constantly and seamlessly and effortlessly from lead voice to supporting voice. That becomes the way, the path, the life, and the norm for all the players in the ensemble.
There was a wonderful moment just a few bars before the end of My Funny Valentine. Burton laid his mallets carefully down on the vibraphone, with the supreme calmness of a poker champ putting down yet another royal flush on the green baize. He stood back with a benign expression, and just left the others to wrap up the tune, or -pursuing the unsuitable metaphor – to collect his winnings for him.
The balance and the good-natured democracy of this band were slightly sabotaged at the beginning of the set, not from the bandstand itself, but from a speaker suspended high above it. A constant and insistent close-up of drummer Antonio Sanchez’s ride cymbal skewed the mix. But once that was sorted, the listener could enjoy the subtle, supportive interplay of this group which has got together only recently, and is evidently enjoying its work.
Julien Lage is a fine guitarist, but he often marks his transitions into the solo spot with a smile which I found distracting. Drummer Antonio Sanchez was flawless throughout, but the listener’s attention can’t be everywhere.
Back to Scott Colley. With feeling. I had heard him on many records, but this was my first live encounter. He quite simply seems to have it all. The technique and the control and the self-knowledge to take the listener by surprise the whole time. His improbably fast walking fours are powerful, but he also shows masterly timing in knowing when to stop them and move to another texture, ones, twos, whatever. His own composition in seven moving to eight was a great vehicle for the improvisers. His subtle delineation of time in the slower numbers was masterly. His sound is gorgeous. His intonation is faultless. He gets busy in cadences and then marks the downbeat of a new feel by backing away from it.