With Common Ground, Gary Burton, the Grammy-winning pioneer of the four-mallet technique of playing the vibes, is not only delivering his first studio album since 2005, but is also introducing his latest band. Known as the New Gary Burton Quartet, the group is comprised of guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez.
Common Ground features 10 tunes, including six remarkable originals by quartet members as well as two impressive numbers by pianist Vadim Neselovskyi (a former Burton band member), a gem from the Keith Jarrett songbook and an intriguing arrangement of the standard “My Funny Valentine,” spotlighting Lage.
Well-known throughout his five-decade career for his quartets (beginning with his 1967 group featuring Larry Coryell, Roy Haynes and Steve Swallow), Burton is returning to the configuration for the first time since the mid-’90s.
The quartet served as a reunion of Lage with Burton, who has known the guitarist since he was a teen wunderkind and has featured him in his bands up until three years ago. (During the hiatus from working together, Burton was focusing on revisiting the 1973 chamber jazz classic Crystal Silence duo with Chick Corea, while Lage finished college and worked on his long-awaited debut album, Sounding Point.)
“Julian has matured so much since I first met him 10 years ago when he was 12 years old,” Burton said in a recent news release. “Julian has kept on growing and developing a sound of his own. He’s a knock out.” Lage fills the quartet guitar chair that was once held by such rising-star six-stringers as Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Kurt Rosenwinkel, among others.
“I’ve always liked the vibraphone-guitar sound,” says Burton, whose masterful vibes glisten throughout Common Ground. “It’s something that I discovered when Nashville country guitarist Hank Garland invited me in the ’60s to record with him. The sound of the two instruments together has an ideal timbre and coolness.” For the quartet’s rhythm section, Burton called Sanchez, who has played with the vibraphonist on and off in recent years. But Colley is new to Burton’s employ. “Once I decided to have Antonio be a part of the group, I asked him what bass player he’d suggest, and he said Scott is the one,” says Burton. “They are a terrific rhythm team.”
While Burton has crossed multiple stylistic borders since he broke into the jazz ranks in the ’60s, he finds that he often returns to the straight-ahead jazz quartet setting. That’s why Common Ground by the New Gary Burton Quartet is so special to him.
“Since my very first group in 1967, I can count maybe three times that one of my groups over the years clicked so perfectly,” Burton said. “Whenever I start a new group, I often wonder how things will work, to see if the musicians will enjoy playing together and are ready to take the music to a higher level. With the new band, I’m thrilled. It’s proving to be one of the standout bands of my career and has already quickly developed its own identity.”