Nov 11 2013
This is what happens when musicians with different voices but similar points of view come together on a project. This is the sublime genius that presents itself with an irresistible simplicity, a vibrant resonance of a singular focus.
Vibraphonist Gary Burton has spent a career transforming the sound of Jazz. His inclusion of classical traits to a jazz collaboration, and later, his work in creating a new form of world-folk-jazz are just two examples of his body of work that has marked Burton as one of today’s jazz giants. His music often has a moody ambiance, even as he provides a sense of swing and bounce with his four-mallet approach.
Guitarist Julian Lage also is helping transform the sound of Jazz. His music also has a moody ambiance, most notably on his 2011 release Gladwell, which took folk-jazz to a new level, providing a rustic charm to rival the music of folk guitarist Leo Kottke as much as it did the quiet solitude of a solo Jim Hall performance. Bassist Scott Colley‘s 2010 release Empire, also, tread firmly on folk-jazz territory, though the moody ambiance took on the resemblance of Bill Frisell’s spooky Americana sound (Frisell contributed to the album, in fact), and drummer Antonio Sanchez‘s 2013 folk-jazz release New Life punctuated its moody ambiance with a resounding series of dramatic expressions that brought it more in line with the nu-jazz of a Brian Blade Fellowship.
Similar visions, similar manifestations of those visions, yet resulting in a disparate array of expressions differentiating them from one another, but likely would fit the bill for any listener looking for something lively to fit seamlessly with a peaceful state of place and mind.
Which brings us to the Gary Burton Quartet release Guided Tour, an album with plenty of heat and swing, but expressed with a presence that matches better with a fireside seat than a spot on the dance floor. The cumulative energy exerted by the individual artists presents a tempo and temperature greater than that which they might emit on their own, but their smart preoccupation with pacing, of establishing tempos and developing melodies with an abounding patience, it instills a soothing tone that prevails no matter how firmly the quartet is pressing down on the gas pedal.
Your album personnel: Gary Burton (vibes), Julian Lage (guitar), Scott Colley (bass), and Antonio Sanchez (drums).
The quartet comes bursting right out of the gate on “Caminos,” with a driving tempo that wouldn’t indicate a demeanor of sitting still. However, Colley’s presence, both out front and behind the scenes, provides a shadowy presence that colors all the bright notes of vibes and guitar, and balances out with Sanchez’s snappy drum work.
“The Lookout” and “Jackalope” provide great examples of Lage’s rustic influence in a setting with plenty of room to swing. Notes that twang more than shine, his guitar work adds a sunny charm to serious music.
“Once Upon a Summertime” slows things down for the first time on the recording. A seaside peacefulness sets in from the first note, and Burton’s vibes provide both a shimmering beauty and a touch of melancholia to a song with a serene disposition.
“Sunday’s Uncle” shifts between an exaggerated bounce and a casual stroll, with Sanchez providing the impetus for the former and Lage to that of the latter. As the song progresses, those two opposites meet at the middle and become as one.
On “Remembering Tano,” Burton gives a shout-out to Astor Piazzolla, with whom Burton collaborated with as they experimented with tango in a world-jazz context. The piece has a moody disposition, but a spritely step. Colley’s bass is the glue that seals those two elements into a cohesive whole.
“Helena” sets out like it’s to be an aid to relaxation, but decides soon after that it’s unable to contain its exuberance, breaking out into an up-tempo gallop. It changes speed a few times, and none of those changes would be categorized as “slow.”
The album’s final two songs are emblematic of both the two faces this recording presents and the ways in which those two faces are, in fact, only facets of the same visage. The gentle ballad of “Legacy” sways peaceably along, yet at a clip that surges with an insistence that implies a rate of speed greater than its actual range of motion. The album’s closer is the straight-ahead “Monk Fish,” a song that plays it fast, but not loose, and those tightly wound parallel lines of development instill a comforting sense of togetherness that gives the tune, like much of this album, a comportment of repose far greater than the bustling tempo would otherwise indicate.
And it’s exactly that kind of seeming contradictory behavior that makes this album so vibrant, so engaging, and so much fun. One of the best things to come out in 2013.
Released on Mack Avenue Records.
Other Things You Should Know:
This isn’t their first recording as a quartet. That designation belongs to their 2011 release Common Ground, an album that doesn’t sound far removed from Guided Tour, not even a little bit. I no less recommend picking up that recording than I do this one.
You can read my synopsis of Julian Lage’s Gladwell, an album I included in my roundup of the Best of 2011.
I should be finishing up a write-up of Sanchez’s 2013 release New Life sometimes soon. Surprised I hadn’t done it sooner. Just one of those reviews that fell through the cracks, I guess.
I still think fondly upon Scott Colley’s Empire. It’s one of those albums on my list for The Safety Net review series. I may or may not write a review of it… that list I speak of is very very long and my time is very very short. Regardless, you should go check it out, because it’s some very solid music.
There’s a few videos posted on the site, from my These Are Videos That I Like series, of Gary Burton and Julian Lage performing together. A search of either of their names on my site will pull those up.