Gary Burton has remained quietly influential in his career at Berklee College of Music, from which he will retire this year. Because of his modesty and unassuming manner, it’s easy to underestimate Burton’s influence not only on the development of the vibraphone, whose possibilities he unlocked even more, but also on the development of an entire generation of jazz musicians who started in his groups. And those accomplishments don’t even cover his innovations in fusion several years ahead of Miles Davis, his championing of Argentinean tango, his elevating of contemporary jazz to a higher level, his entry into jazz education in its infancy, and his opening of the piano/vibraphone form with Chick Corea. Having undergone open-heart surgery two years ago, Burton now intends to re-enter the music scene with even more recordings and touring after his retirement. It can be expected that we’ll be hearing more of Gary Burton, one of the few remaining originators of the jazz vibraphone, in upcoming years. And that’s a good thing.
True to form, though, Burton has recorded Generations
with one of his students from Berklee who has gone on to a successful career, Makoto Ozone a scholarship student from Japan who couldn’t speak English when he arrived at the school. Burton perceived Ozone’s potential and helped him develop into an exceptional pianist, both as a leader and as an accompanist. Astounded by Burton’s interest, Ozone couldn’t believe that he would be only the third piano player to work with Burton after Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. As consistent and generous as ever, Burton recently perceived the talent of guitarist Julian Lage, who, although still a high school sophomore, is reminiscent of some of the compatible guitarists who started the careers with Burton, such as Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Mick Goodrick. Even at 12 years old, Lage was a prodigy, appearing on the 1998 Grammy awards telecast, and strange to say, he has matured in the intervening four years to the extent that his ease with the guitar and feel for the music exceeds those of musicians three times his age. And Lage has done his homework. Lage wrote three of the tunes on Generations
(and indeed, three generations are represented), and one of them, "Early," proves that he studied the tangos of Astor Piazzolla, one of the musicians Burton and Ozone venerated.
What we get is the Burton/Ozone of Face to Face,
more than of Virtuosi, with Ozone’s rhythm section and Burton’s vibes/guitar combination added. The variety of music is broad and not unexpected, considering the breadth of repertoire that Burton and Ozone have explored in the past. Surprisingly, though both of them allow guitarist Lage to take the lead on much of the music, and surprisingly, Lage shows a confidence and technical ability that fits right in with the group, from Ozone’s pensive tango, "Heroes Sin Nombre," to the light cohesive swing of "Test of Time" to the rediscovery of Oscar Peterson’s "Wheatland," Peterson’s theme describing his native country of Canada. Initially copying Peterson’s solos note for note before coming under Burton’s guidance, Ozone obviously chose to include "Wheatland" as a tribute, and difficult though Peterson’s technique may be, Ozone nails it, as does, not surprisingly, Burton. Surprisingly, so does Lage, without a moment of hesitation, making the performance a tribute not only to Peterson, but also to Joe Pass’ work with him on The Good Life.
Other reminders of people important to Burton occur in the performance of Metheny’s gorgeous "Take Another Look" and Carla Bley’s frenetically challenging "Syndrome," which becomes a workout particularly for Ozone and Penn.
The importance of Generations,
besides the opportunity to hear Burton and Ozone perform again, is the introduction of a young guitarist who’s so good that he undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him.... as have many other Burton protégés.... as did Burton when he recorded New Vibe Man in Town
at the age of 18. Ten years from now, Generations
may be remembered primarily as Julian Lage’s first recording, especially considering the opportunities that Burton will provide him.