If pianist George Burton’s second album doesn’t quite match the audacity of his 2016 debut, The Truth of What I Am > The Narcissist, it’s not far off either. The difference is this: As a novitiate he experimented; now he confidently asserts. (He brings in elder statesman Marshall Allen, speaking in snippets between the tracks, to reinforce his confidence.)
Assertion is not an easy thing to do when one is, for example, covering two tracks by the Icelandic avant-rock band Sigur Rós, and Burton nods to that source with a processed harmonium on “Ti Ki.” Yet it still comes out as pure Burton, and nothing else on either “Ti Ki” or “Untitled #1: Vaka” shows any seams as the pianist adapts them without difficulty to his own approach. They are of a piece with statements of assurance like “Power,” where Burton (on Fender Rhodes) and drummer James “Biscuit” Rouse (one of three drummers on the album) duel for kingship of the groove—with bassist Pablo Menares keeping steady but avoiding the fray—or “Reciprocity,” where saxophonists Tim Warfield (tenor) and Chris Hemingway (alto) join Burton in charging forth like adrenalized medieval knights.
Aside from the leader’s self-possession, there’s another major revelation on Rec-i-proc-i-ty. That would be vocalist Alexa Barchini, whose beautiful, ethereal soprano nearly steals the show. She arrives at the conclusion of the opening “Gratitude,” but with such strength that one can quickly imagine she’s been at the helm all along. Indeed, her presence is so fearsome that Burton is wise to use her on only two other tracks (“Finding,” on which she sings self-penned lyrics, and “Finite Space”). Still, these two can do wondrous things together.