Good Vibrations: Gary Burton at the London Jazz Festival

Gary Burton Quartet and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra – Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (November 17, 2010)

Like any well-prepared host, vibes maestro Gary Burton brought two courses to the table.

The appetiser was a small group set. Introduced pointedly as a “new quartet”, this freshly-prepared line up gigged for the first time just months ago.

Opening with standard Afro Blue, Burton’s trademark four-pronged approach lent the deliciously relaxed set a fairground-like charm, tempered by guitarist Julian Lage’s impassioned attack. Standing where Pat Metheny once did, Lage’s remarkable solo work saw him repeating short, sharp phrases with fiery intensity.

A rare Monk tune, Light Blue – performed only once by its composer – brought out some of the bandleader’s most fluid phrasing, its jagged melody chiming ethereally on his vibes.

Over the past 45 years Burton has reinterpreted works by composers as distinct as Brahms and Piazzolla, but this night it was Wayne Shorter which the spotlight fell on.

Taking to the stage a second time, the main course saw Burton lead the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra on a stroll through the Shorter songbook – one of the most daring and influential of the last five decades.

Lisping over the thunder of a 13-piece brass section on standouts Speak No Evil and Yes or No, Burton’s vibes were lent the wispy romanticism of a film noir soundtrack.

But as is often the case, the starter outshone the main. The arrangements were patchy, the orchestra sounded flat on the last of their four night residency at the London Jazz Festival, and a dazed Burton looked like he was far more interested in his “new” group than the Shorter project which debuted nearly two years ago.

Despite his 67-years, Burton is alive and kicking, with plenty of fuel in the tank. Shorter fans though would have done better to wait until next October, when the real thing lands on these shores.

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