Review: Gary Burton New Quartet

Gary Burton and Julian Lage
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. Copyright (c) 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Gary Burton New Quartet
(Ronnie Scott’s Club, 5th July 2011. Review by Tony Heiberg)

Gary Burton‘s  CD from 2009, Quartet Live, featuring Pat Metheny, has durable appeal. I also admire the playing of Julian Lage. So I had eagerly looked forward to this concert, and was not disappointed.

In his opening remarks, Burton recalled his first appearance at Ronnie’s and the nervousness he had felt when looking out in to the audience, and spotted Count Basie, Gerry Mulligan and Sarah Vaughan. He then introduced Mongo Santamaria’s Afro Blue by mentioning that the composer had had a great fan in Marlon Brando, who frequently sat in on bongos – with limited success.

The quartet established its lush, enchanting, collective sound  from the outset of this number, with intricate ensemble passages and solos from Burton and Lage that were both melodious and virtuosic. The next number, Never The Same Way, by Burton’s regular bassist Scott Colley was in a 7/4 model groove set up by guitarist Julian Lage playing chordal arpeggios in a style influenced by John McLaughlin. Jorge Roeder, who is depping for Colley on this tour, later played a bass solo with horn-like dexterity and melodic content with telepathic comping from drummer Antonio Sanchez and Lage.The band then played a delightfully swinging version of I Hear A Rhapsody with Burton playing variations of the melody and Lage using wide intervals and outside phrases. Antonio’s drum solo was so melodious that one could plainly hear the tune while he improvised.

Burton mentioned the irony of 1940’s and 50’s radical Thelonuis Monk being “today’s most played jazz composer” before introducing the neglected gem Light Blue, one of Monk’s best tunes.

This tune also produced one telling incident. The band was on dazzling form and Julian Lage, whose solo began with a Django-like phrase and garnered an ecstatic response from the young music students at the bar, along with everyone else, was publicly chided by Burton.  The bandleader pointed out that Julian, described earlier by Burton as “today’s hot guitarist” had been “dropping six bars from the form during your solo over the last three nights.” Lage appeared nonplussed, and Burton apologised.

Burton and Lage’s relationship is now that of two colleagues, but they have played together off and on for some ten years, since Julian was thirteen. Unsurprisingly therefore, given their respective ages, and Burton’s deep and long experience as teacher and mentor, they can sometimes drift back involuntarily into that of  master and pupil.

The band closed the first set with Antonio Sanchez’s Did You Get It? a boppy blues with altered changes that swung intensely. Sanchez also wrote Common Ground, the second set’s opening number and the title track for their new CD. Burton’s Was It So Long Ago? is a beautiful tune with Lage playing some flamenco type phrases and Vadim Neselovski’s Late Night Sunrise took us in to a mystical landscape, particularly during bassist Jorge Roeder’s tremolos.

Gary, again recalling the glory days, mentioned how Ronnie Scott got a lot of his gags from regular customer Spike Milligan “a frustrated trumpet player” and from Peter Sellers, ditto, on the drums.

Lage then had a solo spot that sounded like a modern classical guitar etude – state of the art chord voicings along with a steady tremolo – but which turned out instead to be an intro to My Funny Valentine. After the tune Gary pointed out that Richard Rodgers was a stickler for how he wanted his tunes played and “once rang up Ella Fitzgerald to shout at her”. Turning to Lage, Burton drifted back into his persona of the wise but stern pedagogue: “so what he would have made of your intro I hesitate to say”.

The concert ended with a mesmerising version of Pat Metheny’s Elucidation with elegant melodic interplay between the four band members culminating in a standing ovation and an encore of  Bags’ Groove,  Milt Jackson’s most famous blues.


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