Throughout his long career, vibes master Gary Burton has been one of the most respected jazz performers around. But even though he's won six Grammys and performed alongside many of the greats, one of his best spots has always been as the heart and soul of the groups he's led. Those groups — usually quartets — have changed personnel from time to time, but the music has always been first class.
That is once again the case with his new album simply titled Quartet Live, now out on the Concord Jazz label. In his latest incarnation of the quartet he's joined by a couple of veteran former members, guitarist Pat Metheny (who also co-produced with Burton) and bassist Steve Swallow. Metheny also brought aboard the fourth member of the group, drummer Antonio Sanchez, who has been a member of Metheny's own combo for a number of years.
As you might guess from the title, the album was recorded live, and the setting was Yoshi's Jazz Club in Oakland. Included in the collection of 11 tracks is a nice mix of mostly contemporary jazz, including a few pieces written by the quartet's members. I thought the best of those were Metheny's "Missouri Uncompromised," which not only features his fiery guitar but also some strong work by Burton, and the leader's own "Walter L." The latter gives drummer Sanchez some nice opportunities to play off of Swallow's bass, with Burton and Metheny dueling throughout.
Other good listens on the album include Chick Corea's "Sea Journey," Carla Bley's "Syndrome," and a piece that Burton has included on some of his other albums, "Fleurette Africaine (Little African Flower)." It's a gorgeous Ellington tune that allows both Metheny and Burton to show their softer sides on what was originally the Duke's piano lead. It was probably my favorite here.
Burton and his buddies have put together a nice collection of tracks, one that should appeal to most jazz fans. Recommended.