The New Gary Burton Quartet – Guided Tour (2013)

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Having turned seventy this year with an ample legacy stretching more than fifty years, Gary Burton could be excused if he kicked back and coasted by this time. No dice.

Even as Burton looks back with his autobiography pending next month (Learning To Listen, Berklee Press), he simultaneously looks ahead as he’s apt to do, with Guided Tour due out August 6 from Mack Avenue Records. The secret to his continued vitality lies partially in surrounding himself with fresh, inventive talent and encouraging them to make their own mark in the band. The distinguished former Berklee educator knows just how to get the best from them, and got his current lineup of Julian Lage (guitar), Scott Colley (bass) and Antonio Sanchez (drums) off to a nice start a couple of years ago with Common Ground (2011).

And it gets even better with Guided Tour.

I suspect that nothing was intentionally done to make Guided Tour any different from the prior New Quartet record, but with some more touring behind them and the comfort level that begets, the ease at which they tackle compositions tortuous and straightforward alike become more apparent. That, and the high quality of compositions band members are willing to bring to the sessions and not save for themselves.

Sanchez, who gave both the first and the last tracks, proves his limitless diversity just from these two compositions. The former, “Caminos,” is very Pat Metheny Group-like with its lightly dancing rhythms and bright melodic progressions. The later is called “Monk Fish” because as the title signifies, the song is constructed with an impish figure that Thelonius himself could have dreamed up.

Lage, who is a seasoned vet still in his mid-twenties nearly a decade after his “discovery” by Burton, is an astonishingly highly developed composer as indicated by his contributions. “Sunday’s Uncle” is a deceptively relaxed tune, but there’s a lot going on under the hood and the chord progressions don’t always go where you think they will. “Helena,” with some Spanish tinges to it, is even more esoteric but remains very melodic. “The Lookout” is blues-based and provides great excuses for everyone show their chops. Sanchez plays a well-disguised 2nd line beat, while Burton flashes an ability to actually get greasy with the vibes. For his solo, Lage has the tone of Django Reinhardt and the language of Jim Hall.

Lage deservedly gets more spotlight on Burton’s “Jane Fonda Called Again,” where he gets the lead role articulating Burton’s self-styled loping, cyclical melody. “Jackalope,” a Fred Hersch cover, is a 7/4 tune with an oddly appealing harmony. Lage’s solo excels, free of overused phrasing.

The only other cover is Johnny Mercer’s “Once Upon A Summertime” a solemn ballad led by Lage’s sensitive acoustic guitar and the glowing colors emanating from Burton’s four mallets. “Remembering Tano” is another soft tempo song, a heartfelt tango Burton devoted to his late tango mentor Astor Piazzolla.

The hallmarks of a Gary Burton quartet are all here: that special simpatico that comes from a vibes/guitar/bass/drums combo breezily playing complex compositions with everyone improvising so attuned with each other. The hallmarks of a great Gary Burton quartet are present here, too: exceptionally talented young musicians with vocabularies of their own. These are all strong leaders who nevertheless play under Burton because the well of knowledge from one of the all-time great jazz performers, educators and visionaries has no bottom.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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