The Urge to Burge, a 1999 Caber Music release features the talents of composer and multi woodwind instrumentalist John Burgess. Backing Burgess is Kevin MacKenzie on electric and acoustic guitars, Mario Caribe on acoustic bass and claves, and John Rae on drums and cymbals. Burgess, a graduate of Boston’s Berklee School of Music, and a veteran of the San Francisco Bay Area and European jazz scenes, wrote or co-wrote all seven of the selections recorded on the CD. The Urge to Burge is an enjoyable, well-performed recording and would be a welcome addition to any jazz collection.
The opening track, Once Upon a Long Ago, is a very sentimental sounding ballad, that features Burgess’ tenor leading off with a husky, breathy Ben Websterish tone. Complimenting Burgess’ melody is the counterpoint of bassist Caribe and the delicate bell-like harmonic fills of guitarist MacKenzie. Drummer Rae also adds easygoing time-keeping and tasty brushwork to the polyrhythmic foundation of the ensemble.
Festina Lente, the second selection on the CD, is a medium tempo Latin piece. When listening to this track, one can’t help but be reminded of the very successful sounds produced by Stan Getz in the 1960’s combining jazz with Brazilian Samba. Also of note is the delicately facile guitar work of Kevin MacKenzie who opts for the acoustic, rather than electric guitar on this track.
The third tune, Delicious, is another down tempo ballad. The melancholy sounding piece features, and opens with, solo work by bassist Mario Caribe. After the opening solo, Burgess leads the ensemble playing the head of the tune tastefully complimented by the guitar either embellishing or playing in unison with Burgess’ sax. The solo work by Caribe and other members of the ensemble, and the occasional flights into double time sections demonstrate better than merely competent chops in this very delicious sounding piece.
The North Beach Hi-Life, a compositional collaboration between Burgess and bassist Caribe is an upbeat, fun sounding piece. The work alternates between the lighthearted feel of a Caribbean calypso and more rhythmically driving bridge sections. Rather than playing tenor on this track, Burgess opts for some incredibly incendiary playing on flute. Also not to be overlooked are fine solos on guitar, and finally a feature of solo work by drummer John Rae.
Almost as a continuation of Rae’s solo from the previous track, Hmmm, the fifth selection, begins with the drummer setting the pace in another Latin inspired piece that has that certain rhythmic tinge that brings to mind the tango. Burgess leads off playing the head, however the first soloing duties are more than capably handled by guitarist MacKenzie. Not to be outdone, Burgess’ throaty tenor contributes a lusty, lush sound, that would certainly be apropos for the sexually charged Argentinian dance.
The sixth selection, another slow tempo ballad, Nine Lives, seems to explore an introspective segment of the psyche and has Burgess performing on his third instrument of the recording, bass clarinet. Bass clarinet is not an instrument readily identifiable with jazz, unless one is familiar (at least) with the work of Eric Dolphy, or more recently, as part of the instrumental arsenal of saxophonist Bob Mintzer. In Burgess’ hands, the instrument has an eerily distant and haunting sound that is satisfyingly contrasted with an almost unexpected light and bright support of acoustic guitar. The relatively minimal accompaniment of the bass and drums seems to be an appropriate backdrop to this rather macabre sounding piece.
The Urge to Burge, the final and title cut of the recording brings Burgess back to the realm of a straight-ahead swinger. The head has the tenor and bass doubling on the melody, with the drums and guitar providing the rhythmic foundation. The ensemble then breaks hard into a swinging section with Burgess’ tenor leading the way. Burgess’ soloing on this track has him "reaching" further than in the previous six tracks on the CD. The guitar and bass solos that follow also demonstrate fine improvisatory virtuosity.
With this CD, the John Burgess Quartet has a collection of music that dips into many different wellsprings of expression. The Urge to Burge is a very satisfying and enjoyable recording that should lead the listener to look for other recording projects by this fine ensemble.