Vibraharpist Gary Burton and pianist Makoto Ozone play pieces from eight classical composers and play them superlatively on Virtuosi. The quality of their work is not news; for years, the two have been living up to the CD's title. Nor is it a surprise that Gershwin and Zez Confrey are included; their work has been mined by jazz players almost from the time it appeared. The delight on Virtuosi is in how well the "changes" written by composers like Ravel, Brahms, Barber and Rachmaninoff lend themselves to jazz improvisation. The pieces include Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin," Brahms' B minor Capriccio, Scarlatti's Sonata in E (K20) and pieces by Delibes and Jorge Cardoso. Burton and Ozone play the compositions as written, then use their jazz chops to expand on them. It is a revelation how hip even dour old Brahms was in terms translatable to an idiom undreamed of when he was alive.
This is a far cry from "swinging the classics," when big bands simply syncopated Bizet or Tchaikovsky. On some Virtuosi tracks it would be difficult for anyone unfamiliar with the original works to distinguish between the written and improvised sections. Ozone's "Something Borrowed, Something Blue" is fully compatible with the classical pieces and indistinguishable from them in quality. In Burton's informative notes he tells an entertaining story about teaching Samuel Barber to play jazz. He also writes about the fun and beauty he and Ozone discovered in this project. The listener is likely to make those discoveries as well.