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Friday, May 19, 2006

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The Gary Burton Quartet Revisited


Jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton sounds like three musicians at once. In his hands, the vibes, which he plays with four mallets, have an astonishing range, reverberating like church bells, thumping like piano chords or coursing through melody lines as fast as a sax. His technique remains the high watermark for the instrument, fitting as snugly into the many quartets and quintets he's led since the 1960s as into the duet format he cultivated with, among others, jazz icon Chick Corea.

Besides being a master of technique and improvisation, Burton has always led vibrant groups filled with younger musicians. He's brought up some of the most distinctive voices in modern jazz, offering first breaks by asking them to record for the likes of Pat Metheny (especially on 1976's "Passengers"), Makoto Ozone, Tiger Okoshi and a host of other now-prominent jazz musicians. That's no small feat considering that nearly every year since 1961 he also recorded with greats such as Stephane Grappelli, Keith Jarrett and tango master Astor Piazzolla.

Such a long run has failed to mellow Burton. His recent recordings, including 1998's intense modern quartet workout "Like Minds," 2002's classical-meets-jazz "Virtuosi" and last year's aptly titled "Next Generation," all show an unlimited sense of how to rework material with bolder variations and an ever-broader vision.

Now, as he starts his fifth decade in jazz, he's revisiting one of his earlier groups with guitarist Pat Metheny and composer and bassist Steve Swallow. This reunion will be a special chance to hear their late '60s-early '70s collaborations in a modern context. Together with drummer Antonio Sanchez, the quartet will tour Japan next week.

The Gary Burton Quartet Revisited: May 26 at Blue Note Club, Nagoya, (052) 961-6311; May 27-June 3 at Blue Note Tokyo, (03) 5485-0088.


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