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|By Anne Farnsworth
Gary Burton, grandmaster of the Berklee talent factory, releases a new album this month, Generations. A longtime collaborator with phenoms he's discovered at the school where he is now an executive Vice President, Burton has helped launch the careers of players like Larry Coryell, Pat Metheny, and Steve Swallow. The title is apt, for his association with these now significantly younger players does truly represent generations. Pianist Makoto Ozone leads a rhythm section that includes James Genus on bass and drummer Clarence Penn. Produced by Burton, the recording has the aural sheen that was a hallmark of his GRP sessions.
With Generations, Burton introduces us to his latest find, guitarist and composer Julian Lage, who was just a high school sophomore when this session was recorded. Lage caught Burton's attention as a twelve-year-old performing on a Grammy telecast. His playing has the sensitivity and maturity of someone twice his age, and his guitar melds seamlessly with Burton's vibes in both texture and sensibility. His compositions for this CD match the sophistication of the pieces written by Metheny, Oscar Peterson, and Carla Bley.
The opening cut, "First Impressions", among others, recalls the post-fusion happy jazz of Spyro Gyra. On "Gorgeous", Ozone and Burton begin with dual lines that sound as if one person is playing both instruments, a product of their own twenty plus years of collaboration. Ozone, a leader in his own right, supports Burton and Lage with a meticulous sensitivity.
"Wheatland" and "Ladies In Mercedes" are bright sambas that kick up the energy level while still retaining the relaxed and mellow vibe that permeates this session. Drummer Penn releases his chops on a montuno solo in Wheatland, a contrast to the reserve he displays for most of the CD.
Burton has been quoted saying that, in using young sidemen, he takes his cues from his old boss, Stan Getz, who "hired younger sidemen to stay sharp". Burton sounds as sharp as ever, and the edge he developed as a leading proponent of fusion in the seventies has a sense of timelessness now.
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