If vibes master Gary Burton was one of Ken Nordine’s jazz colours – what would he be? After tonight’s London appearance, things are looking lilac. Bathed in a stage afterglow that softly mutated from the palest mauve to a deeper purple, the Indiana-born master of the four mallets walked on like a midWest professor about to give another lecture on F Scott Fitzgerald.
This brand new quartet began with the gentlest version of Afroblue you could imagine – genteel restraint and lyricism all round – before cranking down with a delicate ballad appropriately titled Last Snow. But Burton avoids obvious supper clubbery with his improvisational wizardry, and in this he’s more than matched by college kid guitarist Julian Lage. Sadly, Scott Colley’s thoughtful bass playing was recessed in the mix and just too – well – pale.
Drummer Antonio Sanchez provided the upbeat Did You Get It? Led by some propulsive stickwork, this brought out a fine solo from Burton which was more than matched by Lage’s efforts on the rarely performed Monk original Light Blue. But it fell short of the slightly rickety Monk quirkiness we should expect and despite the guitarist’s eloquent fretwork on the closing My Funny Valentine it all remained rather too pastel.
The second set from the Scottish NJO with Burton as soloist should have brought some much needed brass roar. But despite tight arrangements from the 16-piece band, we heard little of composer Wayne Shorter’s asymmetric lines except in the tender final solo by leader Tommy Smith who multi-toned his tenor through the classic Footprints and managed to capture both Shorter’s gruff tenor and clarion soprano in one heady swirl.
Less lilac and more indigo. Even a bit of violet would have helped.