Voltarol - related music

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Gary Burton Quartet Revisited - at The Lighthouse, Poole. 28/7/08

Left to right - Pat Metheny (guitars); Antonio Sanchez (drums); Gary Burton (vibraphone); Steve Swallow (electro-acoustic bass)

This was a gig that I had been looking forward to for some time. I first saw Gary Burton and Steve Swallow play in 1969 at the Hammersmith Odeon with his original quartet (the other members being drummer Bob Moses and guitarist Larry Coryell) and I have long been a fan of Pat Metheny. I had previously seen Antonio Sanchez playing with the Pat Metheny Group at the Poole venue a few years back. (Incidentally, Richard Bona - see Mama Africa part 2 - was also part of the group: that was my first introduction to his extraordinary talents.)
I like The Lighthouse. It's big enough to make events like these a paying proposition but small enough to retain a feeling of comparative intimacy. The acoustics are good, as are the lines of sight. I was feeling slightly anxious about the sound, given our recent concert experience (see Maria Rita at the Barbican) but I need not have worried. The mix was excellent from the start.
The band's opener was 'Reunion', a Mitchell Foreman composition from Burton's 1990 album of the same name. A smile plastered itself on to my face and stayed there for the rest of the evening (removed only temporarily when a somewhat po faced lady member of staff informed me that photography was 'not allowed'. "Then I'll stop taking photographs." I said. "I said 'photography is not allowed.'" she said, somewhat testily. "I said ' Then I'll stop taking photographs.'"I reiterated. "Oh" she said and then, after a brief pause, "Thank you". Anyway, despite all this I managed to get the picture that you see at the top of this page).
Where was I before I so rudely interrupted myself?
Oh yes. I know, as a fairly seasoned musician, that the first few numbers that one plays are part of the 'warm-up' process and it takes a while to really get 'up to speed' as it were. With musicians of this calibre they seem able to start at the top of their game and maintain the standard all night. There might be highlights but there are no lows. This band just kicked into gear and stayed there for the whole concert. That the first number was as much of a stand-out for me as the last encore (which I think was 'General Mojo Cuts Up' from the 1967 'Lofty Fake Anagram' album) illustrates the point. They weren't too big on announcing titles - they were far too busy playing.
So - I can't give you a 'tune by tune' account but I can say that all four musicians worked in total harmony (in both senses of the word). It was another example of 'gestalt'. Whenever one player took a solo the other's slotted effortlessly into providing the optimum backdrop for that that solo to stand out against. Yes - I know that that is what's supposed to happen but mostly it only seems to happen at this level amongst groups of musicians that have played together for a very long time. But then again, I suppose they have. Metheny started his career with Burton and has collaborated on projects a couple of times over the years. Steve Swallow is a long-time Burton collaborator and Antonio Sanchez has been with Metheny since 2002. Also, this is their second tour together (the first one was in 2006) and at the time of writing they had been playing together nearly every night for a month. At this stage in a tour, playing a set must seem like the resumption of a temporarily interrupted conversation.
The middle of the set was given over to a duo section. Gary Burton is a particular master of this format and he and Metheny bounced ideas off of each other beautifully, with long interweaving lines alternating with accompanist/soloist roles - except that they were never quite as straight ahead as that would imply. Burton sets up the most intricate back-drops without ever getting in the way of the other player, ducking in and out of the soloist's lines in a way that always enhances and never obscures. Metheny utilised his 42 string Pikasso guitar to great advantage, as well as bringing his unique strumming sound to bear on a superb 6/8 version of 'Angel Eyes'.
All in all it was a great night's music and two encores and a standing ovation testified to the audience's pleasure. Afterwards I was not at all surprised to bump into my old friend Pete Oxley in the bar, despite the fact that he lives near Oxford and could as easily have got to The Barbican, where the group had been playing the night before. But the Lighthouse is a great venue and given that kind of choice, most musicians will opt for the Lighthouse every time.
The group at the North Sea Jazz Festival, earlier this month, playing Falling Grace