Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gary Burton: Common Ground

Mack Avenue Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Common Ground

My first exposure to a jazz vibraphonist was in the late 1930s, when Lionel Hampton joined the Benny Goodman band. Then Woody Herman added the instrument to his Herds; Red Norvo, Margie Hyams and Terry Gibbs all served. Dizzy Gillespie followed with Milt Jackson; in the early 1960s, George Shearing and Stan Getz found Gary Burton.

Burton, who was just 20 at the time, still produces wonderful jazz today: Witness Common Ground, his newest album.

Burton’s interests cover the complete spectrum of music. He began with traditional jazz, but his tastes quickly expanded to include bop, rock, fusion, Latin, progressive and chamber jazz. Now, as with; many of today's icons, he concentrates on the latter.

Over the years, Burton has earned 15 Grammy Award nominations, winning five. He has had an extensive affiliation with the famed Berklee College of Music and, until 2003, was an executive vice president, overseeing the school's daily operations.

The New Gary Burton Quartet includes guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Lage belonged to one of Burton's previous groups, and Sanchez and Burton often worked together in the past. Colley is a newcomer.

This album contains 10 tunes, only one of them a standard ("My Funny Valentine"). The rest are originals by members of the quartet or previous artists with whom Burton has played.

Burton has always liked the vibraphone/guitar sound, but that combination is relatively uncommon; vibes/piano is the usual mix. But Burton's preference is key to achieving the chamber element in the music this quartet produces. The result is "listening-to jazz": distinctive, soothing and beautiful — "pretty" comes to mind — but not exciting or danceable.

Some of the tunes are complex. Meters vary — "Never the Same Way" is in 7/4 time, for example — and two melodic lines often are overlaid, but what transpires always is appealing.

The quartet’s current tour is booked through the rest of 2011, primarily through major cities. As a result, this album may be your only chance to enjoy this band's masterful music.

But, as a side-note: Rumor has it that Burton and Chick Corea are planning a tour together for 2012; that’s something to look forward to!

No comments: