Few musicians manage to sound as elegant and exotic, or as thoughtful and buoyant, as Gary Burton, the pioneering vibraphonist who helped create fusion in the 1960s and nurtured such future guitar greats as Larry Coryell, Jerry Hahn and Kurt Rosenwinkel. But no guitarist blossomed under Burton’s mentorship like Pat Metheny, whose four-year tenure in the vibraphonist’s band in the early 1970s played a key role in developing Metheny’s musical aesthetic and laid the foundation for his subsequent ascension to stardom.
Burton and Metheny re-teamed in 2005 for a gig at the Montreal Jazz Festival, where they were joined by electric bass great Steve Swallow, a charter member of Burton’s quartet in 1967, and current Metheny drummer Antonio Sanchez. The results were so inspired that the quartet went on to tour each of the past three years and record this 11-song live album at Yoshi’s in Oakland. The unusually empathetic playing and listening by each player on Quartet Live yields impeccably nuanced musicianship, as the group mixes fetching originals by Burton, Metheny and Swallow with classics by Duke Ellington (“Little African Flower”), Carla Bley (“Olhos de Gato”) and Burton’s longtime musical partner, Chick Corea (the album-opening “Sea Journey”).
Sanchez’s drumming doesn’t sacrifice sensitivity for intensity, while the ever-nimble Swallow contributes marvelous solos to “Sea Journey” and to his exquisite ballad, “Falling Grace.” Burton and Metheny’s lattice-like lines on the guitarist’s “Missouri Uncompromised” and Bley’s “Syndrome” are a delight, and their playing—as might be expected—sparkles and shimmers throughout. That makes the unexpected moments stand out, especially Metheny’s edgy guitar-synth workout on “Question and Answer” and his raw-edged solo on Burton’s hard-driving tribute to Hank Garland, “Walter L,” which at times recalls the blues-rocking Eric Clapton.