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-- Steve Kiviat
Those who play jazz often teach jazz these days, but few have enjoyed a longer and more distinguished career in both fields than vibraphonist Gary Burton. At Blues Alley on Saturday night, Burton was in his element, performing with a young and gifted group of musicians dubbed Next Generation.
The bandleader's list of proteges is impressive. He has helped mentor Pat Metheny and Makoto Ozone, among many other artists over the years. He's now touring with two musicians who are likely to become prominent names in jazz: guitarist Julian Lage and Ukraine-bred pianist Vadim Neselovskyi.
Their skills as players and composers were showcased during Saturday's opening set, and Burton didn't need to make any allowances for their youth. Indeed, two of their contributions -- the Lage-penned tango "Early" and Neselovskyi's vibrantly harmonized "Prelude for Vibes" -- ranked among the evening's highlights. Both pieces complemented other standout performances, including the quintet's chamber jazzlike treatment of the Mitch Forman ballad "Gorgeous" and its expansive arrangement of Oscar Peterson's "Wheatland."
Depending on the mood, Burton used his signature four-mallet technique to unfurl bright ribbons of tones or to introduce a variety of shaded textures. As often as not, though, the spotlight was on Lage and Neselovskyi. Lage's fluid lines often dovetailed with Burton's dashing runs or produced colorful weaves, while Neselovskyi tended to initiate more dramatic and soulful tacks. Bassist Luques Curtis and drummer James Williams, in addition to providing crisp, self-effacing support, were particularly effective when underscoring Burton's well-documented passion for Latin rhythms.
-- Mike Joyce