Blue Notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am


'I've always liked the vibraphone-guitar sound,' says vibes virtuoso and innovator Gary Burton, who expanded the range and technique of playing the instrument by going from two mallets to four.

'It's something that I discovered when Nashville country guitarist Hank Garland invited me in the 60s to record with him. The sound of the two instruments together has an ideal timbre and coolness.'

That partnership was best captured on the influential 1961 album Jazz Winds from a New Direction. Since then Burton has gone on to play an important role in the careers of several of the leading guitarists in jazz, including Larry Coryell, John Scofield, Mick Goodrick and, perhaps most notably, Pat Metheny, who made his name with the Gary Burton Quartet, and with whom he has since periodically renewed his association.

Burton's last release for the Concord label, 2009's Quartet Live, documented a live performance of a reconstituted Burton Quartet featuring Metheny with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Antonio Sanchez. His first for his new label, Mack Avenue Records, is also his first studio album since 2005 and is the debut release by the New Gary Burton Quartet, which again features Sanchez, along with bassist Scott Colley and guitarist Julian Lage.

Lage, still only in his early 20s, is a Burton prot?g? whose talent the veteran bandleader immediately recognised when Lage was introduced to him as a child prodigy. 'Julian has matured so much since I first met him 10 years ago when he was 12 years old,' Burton says.

The guitarist has since worked regularly with Burton and has completed his studies at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Burton is also an instructor. He has also released his own solo debut, Sounding Point. 'Julian has kept on growing and developing a sound of his own. He's a knockout,' Burton says.

Given the shoes he has to fill, Lage certainly sounds assured, particularly on the Rodgers and Hart standard My Funny Valentine on which he features particularly prominently.

Dominant though Burton's vibraphone and Lage's guitar naturally are, this is very much an ensemble album and Sanchez and Colley contribute as composers as well as players. Drummer Sanchez brought the title track and the blues-derived Did You Get It? to the sessions, while Colley contributed the exuberant Never the Same Way.

Burton composed Was it So Long Ago? at the piano as a tango piece dedicated to his friend the late Astor Piazzolla, and also suggested two compositions by another old associate, pianist Vadim Neselovskyi. Lage contributed two originals, Banksy and Etude, and the album concludes with Keith Jarrett's In Your Own Quiet Place, which Jarrett wrote for Burton and the two recorded together in 1970.

'I've played this ballad as a solo in concerts over the years, which has worked well, but this new version is the first time it's been played in a band format since 1970,' Burton says.

The leader is certainly happy with the way the group rapport has developed - they toured before recording the album and will take the music back on the road. Dates are planned for Japan, and it would be nice if they could be persuaded to detour to Hong Kong.

'Since my very first group in 1967,' Burton says, 'I can count maybe three times that one of my groups over the years clicked so perfectly. Whenever I start a new group, I often wonder how things will work, to see if the musicians will enjoy playing together and are ready to take the music to a higher level. With the new band, I'm thrilled. It's proving to be one of the stand-out bands of my career and has already quickly developed its own identity.'

Take Three

Albums featuring the vibraphone playing of Gary Burton:

Jazz Winds from a New Direction (1960, Columbia): guitarist Hank Garland proves that Nashville Cats can play jazz as well as country, and he and Burton demonstrate that vibes and guitar make an effective partnership.

Duster (1967, Koch Jazz): Burton and Larry Coryell, along with the formidable rhythm section of Steve Swallow and Roy Haynes, make one of the first bona fide jazz-rock albums.

The Crystal Silence (1972, ECM): Burton is most at home in either a quartet or duet and here he begins a partnership of equals with Chick Corea that has lasted decades. The 2008 live in Australia double CD The New Crystal Silence, on which they team up again and revisit some of the tunes on this thoughtful and beautifully balanced album, is also well worth hearing.