Going Back to a Source

by Josef Woodard

METH REVISITS BURTON: A magical moment occurred at last summer’s Montreal Jazz Festival when guitarist Pat Metheny walked onstage with vibist Gary Burton, the guitarist’s first major employer back in the early ’70s. It was old home week for a couple of hours, as the band covered material a ’70s audience would have heard, along with original bassist Steve Swallow and Metheny’s current drummer Antonio Sanchez. Metheny has briefly crossed paths with Burton before, as on the all-star album Like Minds in 1998, but this was something distinctive, a ripe homecoming.

The difference between then and now, of course, is that Metheny’s career, launched right out of his Burton stint in 1976, has soared into a rarefied zone where mass public acceptance — by jazz standards — has mixed with critical acclaim, mostly, and sweeping public acknowledgment few jazz artists have managed.

Metheny’s Montreal visit involved much nostalgic reflection, through a special series of concerts in the festival’s Invitation series. Burton hired Metheny when both were teaching at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Metheny was a bright young player, more grounded in theory and clean-toned than his “fusion” contemporaries, and obviously blessed with some fresh ideas the world was ready to hear. Burton’s own music, tinged with lyricism and folk flavors, was an influence on Metheny’s musical conception.

That night in Montreal last summer, the pair decided the reunion was worthy of more serious attention, more than a one-night stand. The resulting tour and live recording project is underway, and the Lobero Theatre, where they play on Tuesday, is one of the lucky venues (one of six U.S. bookings). No doubt, Metheny cast a favorable vote for the Lobero, having played a sizzling show there last September. Word of the theater’s reputation as a stellar jazz venue is spreading. In another connection, the last time Burton played in Santa Barbara was some 30 years ago in the Arlington Theatre, with essentially this same band, part of a roving tour of artists on the ECM label. Back then, Metheny was just a gifted sprout with a fat guitar, on the cusp of a brilliant career. Fast forward to 2006, and his role in the Gary Burton Quartet Revisited project brings one strain in the guitarist’s musical narrative full circle (to quote a Metheny album title). Needless to say, the Burton concert is one of the significant jazz events in Santa Barbara this year.

BIG BAND WAGONEER: Fans of big-band writing should make haste to catch the Chris Walden Big Band, returning to SOhO on Monday. As with his previous SOhO shows, the stunning jazz singer Tierney Sutton will sit in on a few charts. Born, raised, and trained in Germany, Walden went Hollywood for work, and has created one of the finest West Coast big bands. His debut album, Home of My Heart, nabbed two Grammy nominations and will be followed by No Bounds, out in July.

Both recordings show Walden’s assured skill at mediating old-school notions and fresh blasts of sophistication and harmonic adventure, with a decided European lean. Here’s another example why recent reports of Europe’s favorable influence on the reputedly all-American genre of jazz are not exaggerated.

OJAI BOUND: Okay, so the most important classical music event in Santa Barbara — the Ojai Music Festival (June 8-11) — isn’t exactly in Santa Barbara, but considering its closer proximity to us than L.A. enables claims of some proprietary interest. What has distinguished the festival and given it international cachet is its central notion that classical music actually is alive and forward-moving, not weirdly lodged in the land of dead white men’s heads. This weekend’s program, organized by music director Robert Spano, celebrates good, challenging, and accessible current music, focusing on one of the brightest living composers, Osvaldo Golijov, great American soprano Dawn Upshaw, the fine new music ensemble eighth blackbird, and inspired oddball inventor/musician Trimpin doing Conlon Nancarrow. (Got e?

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