Now fully recovered from heart surgery, and just before heading off to Europe for a tour with Chick Corea, jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton played with his New Quartet at the Lobero last Tuesday, in what was surely one of the year’s best musical performances in any genre. Shifting effortlessly from densely rewarding recent originals, like bassist Scott Colley’s “Never the Same Way,” to such bop classics as Mongo Santamaría’s “Afro-Blue” and Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove,” the band, which also features Julian Lage on guitar and Antonio Sanchez on drums, proved that really great jazz still swings easily and freely, even when it’s at its most complex and challenging.
Lage, whom frequent visitors to the Lobero will recognize from his recent appearance there with Mark O’Connor, was discovered by Burton when he was just 12 years old, and, at 23, he’s now the greatest lyrical jazz guitarist to come along since Pat Metheny, Burton’s protégé and sometime-bandmate of the 1970s. There were loads of highlights — seemingly one for every kind of jazz fan — but Burton’s amazing tribute to Astor Piazzolla, the tango called “Was It So Long Ago?” stood out. The tune showcased not only the leader’s brilliant natural phrasing but also the tremendous sense of deep communication between the front line of Lage and Burton and the exquisite rhythm section of Colley and Sanchez.