The Gary Burton Quartet, featuring Pat Metheny
At the Lobero Theatre, Tuesday, June 13.
Reviewed by Stanley Naftaly
There was power to spare when the 1967 Gary Burton Quartet momentarily reformed on the Lobero stage last Tuesday evening, and the atmosphere in the full house was charged with excitement. Burton is known for perfecting a four-mallet technique that freed the vibraphone from its strictly percussive role and allowed him to develop longer, more complex, harmonically extraordinary lines. Guitarist Pat Metheny has been similarly inventive. While playing with Burton from 1967 to 1971, Metheny reinvented the jazz guitar, blending the looseness and flexible articulation usually associated with horn players with a modern rhythmic and melodic approach.
The third member of that early ensemble, bassist Steve Swallow, is one of the most extraordinary jazz players ever to lay a finger on a fretboard. Solid as the proverbial rock as a rhythmic player, Swallow’s solos are lyrical, sensitive, and fascinating. He also wrote many of the original group’s songs — deeply beautiful, intelligent compositions that elicited appreciative deep breaths from the crowd. Rounding out the quartet is the amazing Antonio Sanchez, Metheny’s regular drummer, who lived up to his reputation, showing major chops and remarkably cohesive playing.
In 1967, Burton led a fusion band that predated Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. In the same year, he played a concert with the rock super group, Cream. The energy that informed those events was definitely in evidence at this concert. Metheny played a solid-body guitar three times during the show, and every time he picked it up, what resulted was the most perfect definition of jazz/rock fusion imaginable. The music kept the melodic and harmonic complexity of jazz while adding the raw energy and abandon of rock. Burton did a Jekyll/Hyde on the vibes and Metheny reminded everyone that he can howl potently.
The concert featured music by Chick Corea, Carla Bley, Keith Jarrett, and Duke Ellington as well as Burton’s, Metheny’s, and Swallow’s compositions, and the mood ranged from ballads to up-tempo burners. A high point of the evening was a duet by Burton and Swallow on Swallow’s composition “I’m Your Pal.” Like everything these master musicians offered us, it was perfectly formed and lovely to behold.