No matter how hard you press vibraphonist Gary Burton, he will not acknowledge “Guided Tour” is his best album in the last decade. Another thing Burton will not do is argue with the reviewers who believe the album is his most significant work. Eight of the 10 cuts on the album were composed by the members-drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Scott Colley, and guitarist Julian Lage. The quartet is tight as new shoes. Lage is the standout. His playing "Once Upon A Summertime" and "Monk Fish" will make your chest hairs dance. Obviously, Burton genuinely loved making the album.
“Guided Tour” is an excellent follow up to “Common Ground,” his first album for Mack Avenue Records and which served as the official launch of his new band The New Gary Burton Quartet. The quartet is arguably his greatest band. That Burton is not reluctant to acknowledge.
Burton, 70, is one of the all-time great vibraphonists. He can make a great album in his sleep. To date, he has made 63, and he has been nominated for 15 Grammies. Last year, he won a seventh Grammy for “Hot House,” with pianist Chick Corea. With his very first band formed in 1967, Burton was on the ground floor of the jazz rock fusion movement.
Fort 30 plus years, Burton taught at the Berklee College of Music. Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Julian Lage are star jazz guitarists Burton gave their start. I Dig Jazz emailed Burton about “Guided Tour,” his affinity for guitarists, and how his new band compares to his previous ones.
“Guided Tour” is your second album for Mack Avenue Records. How is it different from your debut “Common Ground”?
‘Common Ground,’ our first New Gary Burton Quartet recording captured the early stages of our group, we had been playing together for all of three weeks when we recorded then. Now after two years of touring the USA, Europe and Japan, the group has continued to evolve and expand on the rapport, which has become a hallmark of this current group. ‘Guided Tour’ is an important step forward for the band.
How does the New Gary Burton Quartet compare to your past bands?
My current group is in that rare category that only comes along a few times in your career. The chemistry between the musicians is incredibly balanced and interactive. It's a situation where we all can play at our best, and the total of our playing is greater than we manage individually. I've only been part of a group with this kind of communication a few times in my career.
You unveiled the New Gary Burton Quartet last year, how did the quartet come to be, and how long did it take the band to click?
I assembled the New Gary Burton Quartet, kind of just for fun. The plan was to just do a three week European tour, nothing more was planned. But, almost immediately, the great chemistry of the group became obvious, and by the time we finished the tour, I couldn't wait to get us into a recording studio, so the New Gary Burton Quartet was launched.
What is the key to making great albums consistently?
I think the most important factors in making a good recording are choosing a productive concept, and sticking to it. One of my techniques is to choose, say, two songs that most demonstrate the style and concept I visualize for the recording, then all the remaining songs are chosen because they are compatible with the original song choices. My two "anchor" songs for ‘Guided Tour’ were ‘Caminos’ by drummer Antonio Sanchez, and ‘Helena’, by guitarist Julian Lage.
The New Gary Burton Quartet wouldn't be as dynamic without Julian Lage. Do you agree, and how does he compare to the other great jazz guitarists you were associated with.
I consider Julian Lage to be one of my biggest discoveries. He is so talented as both a guitarist, with an original sound and style, and as a composer. That I have known him and played with him since he was 12-year-old gives us a special dynamic, too.
Will you explain your affinity for jazz guitarists?
I think there are two reasons for my long-running connection with guitarists. First, the sonic blend of vibes and guitar works extremely well. Both instruments are mellow-sounding and when playing in unison can blend together into a single deep sound. Or the instruments can play separately and be heard distinctly. So, it is nice for arrangements and ensemble work. And for some reason I don't really understand, guitar players and I seem to have a mutual affinity. I keep matching up with talented players in collaborations that sometimes last for years and years.
At this stage of your career, what keeps you going?
After nearly five decades of being an international jazz star, I feel like one of the luckiest people on the scene. Having built up a body of work and experience, my goal now is to maintain it, and keep growing; there is always something more to be done.
Is "Guided Tour" your favorite Gary Burton album?
Is "Guided Tour" your favorite Gary Burton album?
After 50 years of making records, and sixty-some releases, it's hard to describe any single one as a favorite. They're a little like your children, you love each of them for different things. But I can truthfully say that ‘Guided Tour’ is certainly one of my best, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. A number of the early reviews have described ‘Guided Tour’ in superlative terms, the most recent being the NY Times describing it as my most significant work in the last decade. I don't disagree with that.