Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Rudy Lu
Jazz vibraphone master Gary Burton celebrated his 70th birthday back in January, and he brought his year-long birthday tour to Nippertown for not one, but two stellar concerts with his New Gary Burton Quartet. They headlined Day One of Lake George Arts Project’s annual Jazz at the Lake Festival in Shepard Park on Saturday, September 14, and then less than two weeks later returned for a simply sparkling concert at the College of Saint Rose’s Massry Center in Albany.
Age certainly hasn’t slowed Burton down. If anything, he seems busier than ever. In addition to his touring schedule, the seven-time Grammy Award-winner also just written his autobiography, “Learning to Listen,” and released a new album with his quartet, Guided Tour, both of which were released in August.
With his remarkable four-mallet technique, Burton opened the Massry Center concert with an unaccompanied intro to “Late Night Sunrise” from the band’s 2011 debut album, Common Ground, utilizing his remarkable four-mallet technique to deftly blend single notes and chords within the same phrase.
He has long had a knack for discovering great guitar talents – Pat Metheny, Larry Coryell, John Scofield and Kurt Rosenwinkel all cut their teeth in his bands – and the latest in the long line is Julian Lage, who is a master fretsman despite being only 25 years old. (Lage was actually only 12 years old when he first played with Burton; 15 when he first recorded with him.) The mix of vibes and electric guitar created a magical, other-worldly shimmer, whether it was the Latin-tinged rendition of the standard “I Hear a Rhapsody” or Burton’s own tantalizing tango “Remembering Tano.”
And Lage’s fretwork was dizzying during his unaccompanied introduction to the standard “My Funny Valentine,” wending his way through an imaginative but focused improvisation that worked up and down the guitar neck before peeling back the layers to reveal the melody. And he did it all without the use of any effects boxes or foot pedals all night long.
And the quartet’s rhythm section – bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez – certainly were no slouches, either. Their playing provided muscular accompanied to anchor the often dreamy sonic wash, and they both proved to be first-rate soloists as well. Sanchez’s solo during Lage’s playfully funky “The Lookout” was a highlight of the night. In addition, they both contributed stellar compositions to the concert – Colley’s explosive, snaking blues “Never the Same Way” and Sanchez’s show-closing “Monkfish,” a delicious slice of zippy, finger-popping swing featuring a hair-raising drums-and-bass duel.
And wrapping up the evening with an encore that paid tribute to the jazz vibes legacy, the band romped through Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove” before calling it a night.
Led by Greenville drummer Michael Benedict, Nippertown’s own Bopitude opened the evening with a solid, horn-fueled, four-song set that swung from Thelonious Monk’s “Think of One” to Cannonball Adderley’s “The Work Song.” With Sensemaya’s Dave Gleason sitting in on the Steinway, the band cracked open the evening with J.J. Johnson’s “In Walked Horace” and never let up during their 40-minute set. Tenor saxman Brian Patneaude and trumpeter Chris Pasin were joined on the frontline by special guest Gary Smulyan on the big baritone sax, making for a bold, undeniably powerful sound.
NOTE: Bopitude will take over the bandstand at the Van Dyck in Schenectady at 7:30pm on Friday, October 11 to host a “drum battle” which will showcase four drummers – Michael Benedict, Mark Foster, Bob Halek and Pete Sweeney – playing in pairs with the jazz combo. The closing of the show will feature a drum battle between all four drummers. Tickets are $15.
THE NEW GARY BURTON QUARTET SET LIST
Late Night Sunrise
Never the Same Way
I Hear a Rhapsody
My Funny Valentine
BOPITUDE SET LIST
In Walked Horace
Think of One
A La Mode
The Work Song