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The New Gary Burton Quartet: Common Ground

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Gary Burton is one of the three or four most important vibraphonists in the history of jazz. But over the past five decades, his best records have come out of his collaborations with other major figures like Chick Corea, Pat Metheny and John Scofield, not from his own groups.

Until Common Ground. Burton’s “New Quartet” contains individual virtuosity and collective chemistry. Julian Lage’s guitar lines and the leader’s four-mallet vibraphone sonorities intimately interweave. Lage’s intriguing, concise ideas are etched into the air. Bassist Scott Colley makes this ensemble sound intelligent, fervent and bonded. Drummer Antonio Sanchez brings a new edgy energy to Burton’s music.

Common Ground has uncommon range of tone and mood and texture for a Burton album, partly because all four players contribute compositions that reflect their contrasting personalities. Sanchez’s “Did You Get It?” is a super-quick asymmetrical postmodern blues that slows only for the composer’s cryptic drum breaks. Few groups can make 7/4 gracefully swing like Colley’s “Never the Same Way.” Lage’s “Etude” sounds classical; the composer and Burton jointly solve its intricate puzzle. Burton’s “Was It So Long Ago?” is a quietly dramatic tango.

But the most memorable piece is an unexpected choice for a band that is all about fresh thinking. Lage opens “My Funny Valentine” alone and takes forever to get to the song, postulating glittering scales and flowing free designs and finally suggesting the melody in chords. Next, Burton and then Colley ruminate over fragments distantly related to the subject at hand. It is exhilarating at the end when the ambiguities crystallize into clarity, and Burton and Lage in turn explicitly acknowledge “My Funny Valentine.” Remarkably, this band’s commitment to fresh thinking has room for shameless romanticism.

Originally Published