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Burton's New Quartet shows freshness, cohesion in North Side shows

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Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 9:45 p.m.

Even when Gary Burton and his band pull back to familiar bits of jazz, their creativity never sags.

Vibraphone master Burton and what he calls his New Quartet displayed their imagination and remarkable cohesiveness in two shows Oct. 5 at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, North Side. It was the opening of the 27th season of jazz concerts at the site.

The quartet — billed “new” to keep it separate from a famous one with guitarist Larry Coryell — presented a blend of new material by the band as well as some standard material that was never lacking.

For instance, at one point, Burton turned over the stage to guitarist Julian Lage, who went into a long solo piece. It started as a balled, got a little more adventurous rhythmically and then went back to a softer side — before turning into “My Funny Valentine.”

Similarly, after doing “Remembering El Tano,” a tribute to tango master Astor Piazzola, Burton led the band into “I Hear a Rhapsody.” The inclusion of the standard was a bit disappointing at first, but the solos of Lage, drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Scott Colley lifted it out of the ordinary.

The four members of the quartet all had great chances to display individual talent, but they also showed a respect for each other and understanding of what everybody else was doing. Solos seemed to emerge smoothly from ensemble play and developed smoothly.

For instance, on “Never the Same Way,” Sanchez began a solo with quiet percussive thoughts. But his sticks worked harder and harder, driving his spot into an explosive finish.

Colley had only a few solos, but his support work was outstanding. On “Remembering El Tano,” he offered rhythmically challenging statements that nicely backed up the piece.

Burton, of course, always is a show-stealer. From his opening statements on the famous “Afro Blue,” he showed his mastery of four-mallet playing. With the used of the four sticks, he can create steady bits of harmony. But he is so skilled at that effort, he keeps those chords fresh around imaginative melodic thoughts.

On, “I Hear a Rhapsody,” his statement of the theme seemed a little trite, but by the time he was into his solo, all the sameness disappeared.

After a warm greeting when the band was introduced, he joked that it might be tempting to “escape before you have a chance to judge us further.”

He needn't have worried.

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