Sunday, November 21, 2010

We Got It

Gary Burton Quartet + Scottish National Jazz Orchestra - London Jazz Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank, London. 17th November 2010

Following a warm up week in New York, tonight’s concert was the first major outing for Gary Burton’s new quartet, and compelling stuff it was too, hitting the pocket from the off. As early as the second tune, ‘Last Snow’, the band already has us with some deep sensitive playing off the back of its gorgeous melody. Guitarist Julian Lage immediately impressed, seducing us with luscious arpeggio sweeps, before showing us his chromatic bop mettle on drummer Antonio Sanchez’s angular blues, ‘Did You Get It’. Sanchez made the most of his own piece, the odd number bar lengths handled with a sure-footed confidence further exhibited on a late era Monk tune, ‘Light Blue’.

Lage’s playing throughout was something to behold, especially on a jaw dropping extended solo intro to ‘My Funny Valentine’, his speedy semi-quaver precision only ever being at the service of a soulful sensitivity that was a sheer delight to bask in. Double bass player Scott Colley took his moment in this track, laying down some thoughtful lines sculpted with a fine lyrical grace.

Mr Burton wasn’t to be overshadowed though. His improvising was so effortless and relaxed, even at the high tempos, that at times we were overwhelmed with the musical treats. I wanted to press pause so I could soak it all up better.

After the break, Burton joined the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra led by ex-Burton band tenor player, Tommy Smith. This was less successful than the first set, the energy level in the hall having dipped somewhat and the Orchestra seeming a little tired after their four gig stint at the festival. Nevertheless, there was enjoyable stuff here, notably on the Wayne Shorter classic, ‘Speak No Evil’, and ‘Virgo Rising’, when the orchestra were definitely grooving. Burton’s best stuff came through on the ballad ‘Infant Eyes’, and Smith got nice and Coltraney on an enriched arrangement of ‘Footprints’.

Lots of good stuff here, but the guitars have it.

Gary Burton photo courtesy of The Queen's Hall

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