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The master vibraphonist is still making great music at 70 on this new release.

Music Review: The New Gary Burton Quartet – ‘Guided Tour’

Old jazzmen never die, they just keep on making fine music. Recent recordings by septuagenarian Oliver Jones and octogenarian Dick Hyman are just two examples of the truth of that aphorism. And now with the release of Guided Tour, the second album from The New Gary Burton Quartet, comes still another example.

Burton, at a mere 70, is a comparative youngster. More importantly, he plays like he’s in his prime. If he lacks anything in stamina and dexterity, which I doubt, he more than makes up for it with the wisdom of experience. This master of the vibraphone has played with the likes of Chick Corea, Pat Methany, Astor Piazzolla, and Larry Coryell, among others. He has spent 30 years in jazz education at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. He has had a long and productive career and luckily for jazz lovers, he is not ready to hang up his mallets.

The new ensemble features youth in the person of guitar sensation Julian Lage combined with experience in veterans Scott Colley on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. It is, Burton exclaims, “a coming together of ‘simpatico’ creative minds... if even one player is not an equal part of the combination, it doesn’t achieve that magical state.” Musicians may be excellent individually, but they don’t always mesh as an ensemble. There is magic in the music of The New Gary Burton Quartet.

Eight of the 10 tracks on Guided Tour are original compositions by members of the band. They open with Sanchez’s Latin-flavored “Caminos,” which focuses on Burton’s vibes as well as the composer’s drums. His quirky take-off on Thelonious Monk, “Monk Fish,” closes the set. The title may well define the composer’s fishy intent which is so deftly carried out in performance.

Lage contributes three pieces. “Sunday’s Uncle” has passages where it almost seems as if the guitar and the vibes are at war with each other. Always in the background there is the persistence of Sanchez on the drums. His “Helena” plays with classic Spanish ideas translated with modern jazz rhythms. “The Lookout” has an almost modernist tone in its harmonies.

Bassist Colley’s contribution is “Legacy,” a ballad written for his father, which fittingly opens with the bass. Burton adds “Jane Fonda Called Again,” a tune he calls a jazz waltz, and “Remembering Tano.” The latter is a tango shout out to Astor Piazzolla. The Michel Legrand ballad “Once Upon a Summertime” develops as a fantasia for guitar and vibraphone, and the jumping “Jackalope” rounds out the album.

If this album is any indication, 70 may well be the new 50… maybe even the new 40.

About Jack Goodstein

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