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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby


Gary Burton

Next Generation.

Concord Music. CCD-2277-2


1. Prelude For Vibes
2. My Romance
3. ‘Ques Sez
4. Get Up And Go
5. B & G
6. A Dance For Most Of You
7. Walkin’ In Music
8. Summer Band Camp
9. Fuga
10. Wise Fool
11. Clarity

Gary Burton (vibraphone); Julian Lage (guitar); Vadim Neselovskyi (piano); Luques Curtis (bass); James Williams (drums)

Very few names in modern jazz carry the weight of Gary Burton’s. During his forty-five year career, he has formed and led eight completely new bands, been a pioneer of vibraphone technique, recruited the services of rock guitarists such as the legendary Pat Methany, and taught at Boston’s Berklee School of Music. He has also shown an uncanny ability to spot new talent as it starts to flourish. "One of the enduring traditions among musicians," he wrote upon his ‘retirement’, "is the willingness to help other musicians learn the craft." And when comes to putting a band together, Burton insists it isn’t a science; just get together a unique combination of personalities and musicians, let them explore each other’s ideas, and with a bit of luck there’ll be a chemistry there that makes them work as a unit.

Certainly, the line-up on Next Generation looks extremely impressive. Launched at New York’s Blue Note club in June 2004, the band consists of four young musicians possessed with startling levels of talent, both in performing and in composition (all but three of the songs on the album are composed or arranged by band members). Sixteen year old Julian Lage is a sheer phenomenon on the guitar, combining a deeply emotional approach with perfect precision and clarity. His sophisticated grasp of mood and style bring great variety to his solos, which range from unashamedly playful to somewhat aggressive in nature. On ‘Get Up and Go’, he shows himself capable of amazing sensitivity as he plucks a sombre melodic passage over the delicate swirl of the piano.

Sensitivity is, in fact, evident throughout the entire band. Drummer James Williams demonstrates an astonishing feel for the music, adapting his consistently subtle approach to a number of styles and moods, and working brilliantly with bassist Lucques Curtis to carry tunes forward with a pleasing bounce. Curtis himself is consistently impressive, adding depth with his resonant tone, and promoting a certain freedom of expression in his slow tango composition, the sparse, bluesy ‘’Ques Sez’. It is pianist, Vadim Neselovskyi, though, who makes the most interesting listening. By far the most experimental of the group, his solos are passionate and brilliantly improvised. And through his background of classical training, he has developed exceptional composition skills. Beautifully constructed to showcase Burton’s talents, ‘Prelude for Vibes’ is a great opening track, whilst ‘Get Up and Go’ demonstrates the pianist’s harmonic knowledge.

So with such great tunes and the talent to match, why does Next Generation seem to be lacking something essential? Perhaps, it's because we’ve heard it all before; since his classic groups of the sixties and seventies, Burton has churned out the same old sound time and time again, never straying far from the formula that worked so well in the first place. Virtuosic though the group may be, their reluctance to stray in to the unexpected dampens the overall impact of the work, making it sound over-polished and stale. As an introduction to Gary Burton, it’s certainly worth a listen. And classical fans who want to branch out in to the formal side of jazz (notably the album includes an arrangement of Barber’s ‘Fuga’) will certainly find something of interest. But jazz lovers looking for their next strong hit of spontaneity and freshness might be advised to look elsewhere for something with a little more edge.

Robert Gibson

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