Saturday, April 12, 2014

Week 13

Common Ground by The New Gary Burton Quartet

Talk about four guys doin' they thing.

Gary Burton: Vibraphone dominator
Julian Lage: Metheny, v.2
Scott Colley: Upright master
Antonio "El Negro" Sanchez: Dr. Tastybeats

I don't think it gets a lot better than this. There are a few Metheny albums that I enjoy more, but as far as my medium sized contemporary jazz/fusion library goes, this one has seen more play than most.

First off. "Late Night Sunrise." What a fun tune. Very playful number that's obviously driven by the guitar but still has some of the most creative comping I've ever heard. These guys are off to a very fresh start.

Next is "Never the Same Way." This one listens like that. Never the same. Took me several listens to get into it, but to me the sign of a great jazz record is that much like a fine wine, it just improves with time. Gary takes a great ride on this one, sparing the quantity of notes for quality. Julian's solo is a little more aggressive which is a nice contrast. Colley's solo, like a lot of upright solos to me, takes a second to settle, but is still plenty solid.

The album's title track is probably my favorite. The head is just... cool. It's got this lilting, floating feel that makes me feel like I'm being pulled in several directions, yet completely relaxed at the same time. It's amazing what a little tasteful chromaticism will do to a melody. All four guys are in great form on this one. The comping and solos are great. Not to mention some killer stuff from El Negro at the end.

The next track, "Was It So Long Ago?" does a lot of stuff. First, it actually makes me wonder "Was It So Long Ago?" the melancholy harmonies (a little Spanish in sound) are yearning for, well, something. Second, even though it's a Burton original, it really showcases not what Gary can do, but what his bandmates are capable of. It's a very unique tune that almost sounds out of place after the first three, but I suppose really it's good that there's something totally different. Lage really moves this one along - just some heart wrenching stuff from him. Last, it makes you want to listen. I don't feel great after I hear it, but I don't want it to end.

Following "Long Ago?" is "Etude." This one begins like a Guiliani Right Hand Study in its arpeggiation figures. It's quick to depart to some really crazy harmonic movement - lots of unexpected twists and turns here. Lage's solo is nice, but Gary's is in a whole 'nother place. Every chorus is more and more exotic. Very hip tune, this one. 

"Last Snow" is next. Well, if you check this album out and think that "Long Ago?" was heart wrenching, then you'll probably feel the same about this one. Just moving. Exhausting really. 

Irony is a funny thing. The next tune is written by the drummer and it's probably my least favorite. "Did You Get It?" is a burner that still has plenty of great playing, but if I'm being honest, I don't get it. Just a bit out of taste for me. Except for the drum solo. Obviously. Who needs time when you're this good!?

Three tracks from the end we get a pretty liberal version of "My Funny Valentine." After a lengthy guitar solo intro, the head is actually pretty cool. Lage gives us plenty to ponder before the group kicks in just after the three minute mark. 

Penultimate track: "Banksy." This is another 'heady' tune that needs a few fresh listenings to get something out of it. Totally worth it though. Very original harmonies, some very cool ensemble gestures and yet again, tasteful playing by all make this pretty enjoyable.

Speaking of enjoyable the last one just makes you smile. "In Your Quiet Place," is best enjoyed... well, you know. Some unexpected harmonies, a Paul Newman flavor, mixed with some nice brushwork on skins wraps you up like a disgusting old blanket... that you absolutely love. Cool solos from Gary and Julian give you plenty to be happy about, not to mention a super comfy spread from Colley and El Negro. Very hip way to end a record. 

Top to bottom, this is one of my favorite contemporary jazz records ever. Gary's a great player and leader, and it's really cool to find out that he's willing to let the spotlight shine on his bandmates. Lage is a hoss. Colley's a cucumber. And Antonio proves why he's always working on someone's record. 

Give this one a listen. Fo. Sho.

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