Disc of the day: 15-06-09

That was then...

That was then...

Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow, Antonio Sanchez: Quartet Live! (Concord 0888072313033)
Let’s get the cover out of the way first, shall we. The primary colour retro-psychedelic painting of Peter Max may have some strange fascination for the jazz CD marketing types, but it was unattractive on the Yellowjackets’ Altered State disc and it’s unattractive here.

But you don’t have to look at the cover – in fact you could buy the CD, burn it into iTunes and never have to look at it again, though it’s worth reading the notes by all four players before you bin it.

And what of the music contained within the noughts and ones of the shiny disc? Oh, joy of joys – that would just about sum it up, I reckon. Metheny first played in vibes player Burton’s band when he was just 19. Swallow had already been in it for three years. When they decided to try a reunion gig, it seemed sensible to add a new, wild card to the hand – and Sanchez had been playing in Metheny’s group so he was definitely up to the exemplary standard.

After an initial gig at the Montreal Jazz Festival, they decided it was sounding too good to restrict to just the one performance, and a tour resulted. This set is taken from Yoshi’s in Oakland, California.

Some of the tunes come from way back when they were together before, some are new – all are just great. But it’s the group sound that is most magical. Metheny explains in the notes that vibes and guitar make for a really rich set of possibilities – both are able to play single notes or chords, and their timbres can blend or contrast as needed. With Swallow’s distinctive woody bass guitar sound in there too, these really are three highly individual instrumental sounds. And, while drums may be drums, Sanchez does have a great and wide ranging way with them.

... and this is now

... and this is now

I could go into all kinds of detailed descriptions of the songs and the solos and the interplay (which is just blissfully seamless and telepathic), and muse on Metheny’s observations about how this band was playing a music that had both jazz and rock appeal long before those two genres were linked with a hyphen, and get all rhapsodic over how well it can sound both laid back and cool, and yet brisk and urgent, delicate and subtle, but straightforward and direct, all at the same time. But why waste time you could easily spend ordering it online or nipping down to your local record shop to purchase. It’s just a lovely, lovely, lovely disc.

Categories: CD review

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1 reply

  1. Yeah just bought it a couple of days ago. The cover is beyond belief, how did they allow it? Truely awful – and yes it does matter. My wife thought I’d bought a poor quality CD of kids’ music for an under fives party when I opened up the package at home. It’s almost criminal to put it near anything on ECM or Blue Note on my CD shelf. One of the very worst album covers ever, and I own Lee Ritenour’s Rio, so that’s really saying something.

    I’ve only played it through once and I’ll persevere. But is it just me? I can never actually seem to really hear Steve Swallow on bass, it’s like he’s just mumbling in the background. The drummer just isn’t all that exciting – I’m a huge Jeff Ballard fan – and I always have a sense of dejavous with Metheny’s solos, I know just what’s going to happen. I own so many of his records is probably the reason.

    Anyway, I’ve played it only once and really need to give it a few proper listens especially given your insightful comments. I’m still reeling from how good the FLY trio album on ECM is and can’t find anything to touch it yet this year.

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