Gary Burton’s New Quartet
Courtesy Photo

JAZZ IS BACK: At long last, jazz of the world-class sort finds its way into the 805, when great vibist/bandleader/talent scout Gary Burton brings his New Quartet to the Lobero Theatre on Tuesday, October 11. It’s a hale and hearty kickoff to the 2011-12 Jazz at the Lobero series, continuing early next year with three more taste treats.

On the troubled S.B. jazz concert front, the less-good news is that Burton’s concert is pretty much the beginning/end of the S.B. jazz concert roster for the rest of 2011, now that UCSB Arts & Lectures has strangely left jazz in the dust for its current season. In defense of the otherwise remarkable UCSB series, of course, they’re grappling with the numbers game in a down-spirited economy, with not enough jazz fans in the area to fill the 900-seat Campbell Hall. A nicely outfitted 500-seater sure would sure be handy for times and specialized genres like these.

Burton, a veteran musician and composer, is no stranger to the jazz world or to Santa Barbara, but he remains one of the sturdier, more self-renewable of jazz “brands.” An early example of a “fusion” artist with integrity, Burton has combined lyricism and natural, unforced virtuosity for decades. He has also shown an uncanny knack for picking sympathetic guitarist allies, going back to a teenaged Pat Metheny (with whom he played at the Arlington Theatre in an ECM Records night in the late ’70s, and then on a recent reunion tour, stopping at the Lobero in 2006).

This era’s guitarist model — and model guitarist — is the stellar young ace Julian Lage, all of 23 now and one of the important new voices on his instrument. Lage has been working on and off with Burton since he was a teen, but the current quartet lineup, with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez, rises to an integrated musical level not heard from Burton in years. That much we immediately detect on the fittingly named new recording Common Ground (Concord), one of the finer items in Burton’s discography, in toto.

Starting with the intelligent nocturnal-cum-morning-glow of the opener “Late Night Sunrise,” the varied set includes Burton’s handsome “Was It So Long Ago,” Lage’s chamberesque maze “Etude,” Sanchez’s brisk “Did You Get It?” and ends on the balladic grace note of Keith Jarrett’s luminous “In Your Quiet Place.” Throughout, the group plays richly and masterfully, alone and together. Common ground, indeed.

FRINGE PRODUCT: In other recent jazz release news, John Scofield’s beautiful, tough-love new album, A Moment’s Peace (EmArcy), is a great example of this guitarist’s special touch in ballad land. For the sake of Santa Barbaran links, it also resonates within six degrees of both the Lobero and Burton, given the memorably wonderful Scofield/Bill Frisell Lobero show back in February, and Scofield’s empathetic work with Burton on the fine 1988 album Times Like These, along with earlier collaborations.

Throughout a career that has included grooving and brooding, rock- and soul-flavored turns, twisted mainstream manners, and the honing of one of the great jazz guitar voices ever, Scofield has also had a special way with ballads. We heard it on his album Quiet, and again here, with delicacy and muscularity doing an appealing rope-a-dope in the expressive mix. A sensitive, starry alliance brings Scofield together with bassist Colley (a bassist-of-choice in current jazz), pianist/organist Larry Goldings and drummer Brian Blade, who understand the mission at hand: to bring a state of balladic grace, but one injected with feeling and restless invention, to material including Sco’s own “Simply Put,” “Mood Returns,” and “Plain Song” (which is, and isn’t), the Beatles jewel “I Will,” and Carla Bley’s “Lawns” (Bley being another great balladeer, with cerebral lights on). Other understated gems include Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away” and a sneakily sauntering “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” You heard it here: Two of the finer jazz discs of the season — and early Xmas gift ideas — are these new beauts by Burton and Scofield.

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