September 25, 2011 – As soon as I heard that Gary Burton was playing at Berklee with his “new
quartet”, I knew I had to go. I had seen Julian Lage at Passim with his band and was looking forward to hearing him in this setting as well. Plus the band includes Antonio Sanchez, drums (also plays with Metheny) and Scott Colley, bass (also with Metheny). The story goes that Burton lined up his drummer first and then asked him to choose the best bass player to go along with them and he immediately said, Colley.
In addition, Gary Burton was one of my earliest introductions to jazz, having heard him in 1977 at an Arcosanti festival in Cordes Junction, AZ. I know I have the program book from that festival, but cannot locate it in all the usual places I’ve squirreled away mementos. 🙁
Back to the concert…
Since this was at Berklee, everyone seemed very comfortable on that stage, probably from having played many concerts there over the years as faculty and students. Gary did most of the talking, of course, as the leader. I like that he actually talked to the audience and explained some of their tune choices(Light Blue: “musicians can play these Monk tunes over and over”) and it’s background (Afro Blue: “the first tune written for the new latin jazz genre”). Here’s the entire set list:
- Afro Blue
- Never the Same Way (Colley)
- I Hear a Rhapsody
- Last to Know
- Etude (Lage)
- Light Blue (Monk)
- Common Ground
- My Funny Valentine
- Did You Get It?
They started with a quiet introduction to Afro Blue by Burton alone, before getting into the melody (doubled by Lage) and solos. Burton is certainly a master of rhythm and melodic improvisation and his bandmates kept up, supporting him throughout the ebbs and flows of a solo. I love how the really great improvisers (and the bands, in general) can move through a song from very quiet and mellow to building up intensity to a crescendo and then transition to the next phase of the tune. That is definitely a sign of both great musicianship and communication among the band members.
Never the Same Way, from the group’s album Common Ground, begins with a bass ostinato introduction before moving to the next section of the melody, a rhythmic vibes melody on top of a blues-y chord progression. This is an extended composition with plenty of room for solos and was actually the longest selection in the concert at over 12 minutes.
“I Hear a Rhapsody”, another standard tune, was a pretty straightforward rendering with solos by Burton, Lage, Sanchez, and Colley. It’s always good to throw in something familiar to keep the audience on your side, so you can expand their range elsewhere in the concert. Burton told a story about how Michael Brecker hated playing at Berklee because of all the musicians likely to be in the audience, Gary says, “but I don’t care…”.
Etude was written by Julian Lage as an exercise for his students (“I feel sorry for his students”, said Burton.), and you can find him playing it on youtube here. Burton said, “When I recorded this on the record, I promised myself I’d never play it again!” and “We started playing this live last week and I think I played it right the third time.” Yes, he even had a very long and wide score in front of him to read thru, which cracked the audience up as he unfolded it on the stands. It was kinda funny watching him shift the paper along as the song progressed. Of course, then they proceeded to play it in unison perfectly. The guitar and vibes have a nice blend to them, both being percussive in attack and in the same range.
Light Blue is an obscure Thelonius Monk tune that had the typical twists and turns of a Monk tune. “He wrote these short, simple, quirky songs that just stick with you.” Apparently he only ever played it once in a concert at Town Hall. I was searching through my iTunes library and turned up a version of Bill Frisell playing it in a live recording I downloaded from ‘who knows where’. I think people like playing these tunes because the melodies are so strong they force you into playing to the strengths of the melody when you solo.
My Funny Valentine opened with an extended intro by Lage, solo. This went on for 6 whole minutes of guitar brilliance, not having too much to do with My Funny Valentine. 🙂 However, the ideas seemed to be endless! There were many different variations on a theme, ranging from folk music to classical until he finally hinted at the real tune the last time through, then passed it off to Burton to state the melody, more or less, with the band backing him.
The encore was “Did You Get It” which is on the Common Ground album. This was a fitting end to the concert and gave everyone a chance to stretch out on their solos. I went home and immediately bought the album. Highly recommended.