TO Jazz Review: Gary Burton & Pat Metheny, Four Seasons, June 29

Gary Burton & Pat Metheny

Toronto – Last night the Four Seasons centre hosted some veritable jazz legends in Gary Burton & Pat Metheny. On their very last engagement of their third tour as a group, this quartet did not disappoint. Opening the night was Robi Botos, a Toronto-based pianist that was ecstatic to be playing the Four Seasons with his brothers. The Botos brothers played a great opening set of straight-ahead jazz that whet the appetite for what was to come.

If there was one thing that was unfortunate about the Botos brothers set, it was some technical difficulties that led to a noticable feedback hum that was especially evident during the introspective solo piano parts. This of course isn’t the fault of the band, but it is unfortunate to run into these kind sound issues in a place as stellar and classy as the Four Seasons. Thankfully the technical issues did not persist into the main act. The Botos brothers played an admirable set of very listenable, oft-times swinging, and above all crowd-pleasing jazz.

This band is a super-group of jedi musicians: 3/4 of them have been honing their force powers since the 70’s. The result was a lush and textured sound that drifted around and then enveloped you.

But we all know why the crowd was drawn to the Four Seasons. It was to see the stellar vibraphone work of Gary Burton, and the jazz-fusion guitar legend that is Pat Metheny. Rounding out the rythm section was Steve Swallows, a bassist extra-ordinaire in his own right, and the young drummer Antonio Sanchez. This band is a super-group of jedi musicians: 3/4 of them have been honing their force powers since the 70’s. The result was a lush and textured sound that drifted around and then enveloped you.

Now, Pat Metheny hasn’t changed his hairdo in decades. Nor has he really changed his sound. He’s a master guitarist that can stand in the spotlight and belt out a blistering and intense solo. Thankfully, he’s also just as capable of sitting back with the rythm section and adding to the atmosphere with a padding that is both subtle and elegant. One thing that he still does rely upon is some guitar effects pedals that he found in the 80’s. As nifty as these echo and reverb effects can be, it does make for a dated sound reminiscent of the 80’s synth.

But we’ll forgive Pat his eccentricities because he his a fantastic wicked-ass guitarist. The quartet was in fine form, playing some of Gary Burton’s material, some of Pat’s songs, and even a Keith Jarrett tune. However, for me the highlight of the night was when Gary & Pat pared down to duet format and played two well-known  jazz standards. I had never heard a duet of vibraphone and guitar interpret these standards. In the hands of these two, it was an absolute treat. But why are jazz standards so, well standard in the jazz world?

In jazz, it’s more about the singer than the song.  [If we are familar with the song] then we cross the chasm between innovation and familiarity. It’s both new and old. Everybody wins. Hurray!

Over the years a lexicon has been built of standards that all jazz musicians learn. Call it a rite of passage. Many of these standards start life as contemporary pop music. As jazz artists discover and re-invent them, they bounce around the collective conscious and in time, a few lucky tunes reach the lofty distinction of becoming a standard. Perusing my music library, I have no less than 15 versions of the tune Summertime from different artists. And yet, Pat Metheny and Gary Burton were able to play Summertime last night in way that was fresh and new to me. Why?

In jazz, it’s more about the singer than the song. When we understand and know a song well, it makes it that much easier for us to follow the artist when he or she reinterprets that song. You can better hear how they’ve embellished the melody and left their own unique fingerprints. When we get right down to it, jazz is  collective improvisation. And if we are improvising over familar patterns and familar songs, then we can cross the chasm between innovation and familiarity. It’s both new and old. Everybody wins. Hurray!

Musicians of this calibre have the uncanny ability to turn it on like a switch, and seeing them in action is well, special.

The next standard played was a Bossa Nova song from the pioneer of the genre: Antonio Carlos Jobim. It’s a tune called O Grande Amore and was tastefully interpreted by Stan Getz in the 60’s. This particular version of the tune was so evocative that I could practically hear Getz’s saxophone on the other side of Gary’s vibes and Pat’s guitar.

Now some people feel that the vibraphone is a bit of a limiting instrument in expressive capability. It has a very particular sound that evokes a very particular feeling. It’s hard to make the vibes sound sad. The timbre they produce sounds almost as happy as a steel pan. That being said, when you’ve got such master-vibraphonist in Gary Burton, playing with three other top-calibre artists, I will not be among the first to complain with the sounds that surround me. Musicians of this calibre have the uncanny ability to turn it on like a switch, and seeing them in action is well, special.

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Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival

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