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Quartet Live

Concord Jazz CJA-31303-02





  1. Sea Journey [9:00]
  2. Olhos de Gato [6:36]
  3. Falling Grace [7:18]
  4. Coral [6:23]
  5. Walter L [5:30]
  6. B and G (Midwestern Night's Dream) [6:53]
  7. Missouri Uncompromised [7:34]
  8. Fleurette Africaine (Little African Flower) [7:34]
  9. Hullo, Bolinas [4:48]
  10. Syndrome [ 4:42]
  11. Question and Answer [13:02]

Gary Burton (vibes); Pat Metheny (guitar); Steve Swallow (electric bass); Antonio Sanchez (drums)
Recorded: Yoshi's Oakland CA 10-11 June 2007


Gary Burton has to be one of jazz's great collaborators. He has the happy knack of recombining his quite unique jazz vibraphone skills with musicians of differing jazz styles or even different genres yet producing results that are more than the sum of their considerable parts. Likewise, he seems to thrive in the live concert environment - to my mind the resulting discs having an edge and improvisatory brilliance that surpasses his studio work. Two of my all-time favourite albums are Gary Burton and Chick Corea: In Concert, Zurich, October 28, 1979 (ECM released 1980 - best jazz instrumental Grammy) and New Tango - Astor Piazzolla & Gary Burton live at the Montreux Jazz Festival (WEA 2292-55069-2).

His latest album here under review is in the very best sense a mix of the old and new. It is very much a stellar line-up with Burton joined by Pat Metheny on guitar and long-time bass collaborator Steve Swallow. The new addition to the tried and tested quartet line-up favoured by Burton early in his recording career is drummer Antonio Sanchez. In the liner notes all of the players take turns to enthuse about this reforming of the quartet but I think they are quite right to draw attention to Sanchez's contribution. He is instrumental (no pun intended) in driving the quartet with a funkier at times latin feel to his drumming that clearly inspires the other players. Everything about this album is literally masterly. Recorded in California live over two nights in 2007 towards the end of a tour it oozes class. Although some of the tracks are remakes of numbers from the 1970's in no way are these tired reworkings of stale "favourites". For example Burton's own Walter L which featured on the last of the original quartet's albums from 1968 here becomes a strutting funk-jazz number that is quite jaw-dropping in the ease with which the players toss off mind twistingly complex riffs. Metheny, in his share of the liner notes says "these concerts were pure joy". I think that corporate pleasure is tangible - it's almost as is you can feel four musicians at the very peak of their talents jousting with each other good naturedly in a "beat that if you can" kind of way. Given the length of the association between Burton and Swallow I was surprised to read that this sequence of concerts is the first time they have played live together since the original quartet disbanded some twenty years previously. The almost telepathic oneness is remarkable. Less demonstrably than Sanchez, but every bit as vitally, Swallow's bass underpins the group allowing Burton and Metheny to fly.

The album does not have the instantly gratifying ear-tickling melodies of some of Burton's other albums. I'm loath to say this is an album for the connoisseur because that implies a kind of jazz-snobbery that I don't intend but this is an album that repays repeated and intent listening. The layers of musicianship on display here both technical and compositional are truly remarkable. Solos are endlessly inventive and sympathetic - I love the variety of sonorities Metheny achieves always matching the feel of the number to perfection. Likewise Burton is as brilliant when taking a solo or filling an accompaniment with riffs and chords as apt as they are imaginative. Metheny's own Missouri Uncompromised is probably a favourite track for me embodying all the fluent brilliance that I so enjoy from these musicians. The following number; Ellington's Fleurette Africaine is given a cooler, almost bluesy feel with an underlying latin groove that is as fresh as it is effective.

This is an excellently recorded and generously filled live album too. The engineers have achieved an close and detailed balance between instruments (perhaps Swallow's bass is a shade distant in a perfect world) in a warm and natural acoustic which allows the appreciation of the audience to register - underlining the live nature of the recording - without ever coming between the listener and the music. One tiny quibble - possibly the worst album cover of recent years - if readers remember the children's TV series Rhubarb & Custard it seems to have come from the same design stable but under the influence of psychedelic drugs with head and shoulders shots of the quartet on the back cover which look like they have been coloured in by a four year old. Clearly I just don't get that but frankly that matters not an iota (I enjoyed the comments from the four players very much once I'd opened the notes!) when you are in the presence of jazz greatness such as this. Now I've got third all-time favourite album.

Freshly inventive stunningly performed disc by a truly great quartet. 

Nick Barnard 

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