Gary Burton’s egalitarian instincts and warm, versatile vibraphone make him an ideal band leader, as affirmed by the wealth of ace ensembles he has fostered over the past 40-plus years. Yet Burton told me recently that this quartet — guitarist Julian Lage, drummer Antonio Sanchez, and bassist Scott Colley, who had been together barely over a year at the time — already ranks among his top three bands.
One reason is that all four members compose tunes that enhance one another’s virtues. Sanchez’s title track, initially called “Song for Gary,” is a deceptively rapid waltz that naturally invites Burton into his signature surge-pause-and-twirl sense of rhythm and resonance, replete with almost casually efficient gusts of notes. Burton’s “Was It So Long Ago?” first recorded in 1988, is tailored to capture Lage’s open-ended filigree, with Burton providing precisely dappled support throughout. In fact, Burton’s engagement with Lage, with whom he first played when Lage was a 12-year old prodigy more than a decade ago, is a marvel of refined substance, at once meaty and lithe. It’s also a kick to hear Sanchez — who for the past 15 years or so has played with the louder and more aggressive guitarist Pat Metheny — alter his approach to accommodate Lage’s restraint without sacrificing too much of his own personality. Colley, who has less experience with Burton or Lage (but plenty with Sanchez), is typically steadfast without bowing to cliché, and his “Never The Same Way” is a slightly off-kilter (7/4 time) number that bumps his mates into greater innovation.
In addition to the six originals, there are two songs by former Burton pianist Vasil Neselofskyi (the beautifully haunting “Last Snow,” with an extended solo by Colley, is my early favorite on the disc), a rendition of “My Funny Valentine” that opens with a finely wrought three-minute solo by Lage (inspired by the group’s week-long residence at the Blue Note in October 2010), and a closing version of Keith Jarrett’s “In Your Quiet Place.” Here’s hoping the New Gary Burton Quartet grows old together continuing to create more common ground.