George Burton’s piano playing has a, for lack of a better word, shining quality to it. He knows where to place the luminous notes so they stand out among the utility ones. That’s a bigger, more important skill than it seems—a question of organization and spontaneity, among other things—but it’s only one of many great attributes Burton displays on his debut album, The Truth of What I Am > The Narcissist.
He’s also, for example, an able bandleader. His vision, a smart melodic postbop with strong elements of R&B and hip-hop, unquestionably dominates the affair. This includes a take on the standard “Bernie’s Tune,” containing a kind of rhythmic guile, in which he’s aided by bassist Noah Jackson and drummer Wayne Smith Jr. On originals like “Ecidnac,” he’s able to pull from his musicians exactly what he needs. In this case that’s a fiery run of polyphonic contortions from soprano saxophonist Tim Warfield and trumpeter Jason Palmer, whom Burton joins in counterpoint. Burton gives his band direction, in other words, without domineering.
Burton also has a gift for melody, with or without issuing challenges to the harmony. He avoids the latter on the disc’s first third; his gliding solos in “Song Six” (on Rhodes) and “Second Opinion” find tuneful possibilities abounding inside the chords, and the others follow him in this strategy. On the other hand, the best tune, “From Grace to Grass,” finds his Rhodes ringing with dissonance even as they explore full melodic development.
Burton’s also good at deconstruction. He uses “First Opinion,” “Ber…nies” and “Ecidnac (Intro)” to dissolve longer tunes into components he can play with. It’s an intriguing device, one that (like all of The Truth…) bursts with promise.