Meet the Beatles!

By JON GARELICK  |  June 17, 2009

Fast-forward and it's years later. The Gary Burton Quartet is playing Wichita, and a teenager with big hair and a toothy grin approaches the leader to ask whether he might sit in. Burton: "The first words out of his mouth were, 'I know all your songs.' " Naturally. Pat Metheny, like Burton, was from the Midwest. And this was a guitar band, using elements of folk, country, and rock.

On Quartet Live, you can hear everything that made the original Burton Quartets — with Swallow in the bass chair for 21 years — so distinctive. There are those folk-rock guitar chordings, the all-around virtuosity. The quartet as an ensemble, Burton is quick to remind, also owes much to classical music, especially the model of the string quartet, with four equal voices. Swallow is justly famed for his upper-register, guitar-like solos, but listen as he plays along with Metheny and Burton on Metheny's "Missouri Uncompromised" or Carla Bley's "Syndrome" — he's playing flowing lines, soloing along with them, creating melodic statements even as he extends the harmonies and keeps time. And Burton's "pianistic" four-mallet vibes are never more inspired than when Swallow is by his side.

In the years between Duster and Burton's Ring on ECM in 1974 (with Metheny and Goodrick on guitars and both Swallow and Eberhard Weber playing bass), Miles Davis, Weather Report, Return to Forever, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra all contributed to radical reconfigurations in the relationship between jazz and rock. Burton Quartet "graduates" like Kurt Rosenwinkel and, most recently, Julian Lage, continue to create distinctive hybrids. "We didn't cease being jazz musicians at all," Swallow recalls of those early years. When he looks at bands like Rosenwinkel's or the Brian Blade Fellowship, he feels an affinity for musicians who want to incorporate contemporary sounds into the jazz language. "It's the same impulse. Why deny it?"

GARY BURTON QUARTET | Berklee Performance Center, 136 Mass Ave, Boston | June 20 | 8 pm | $42-$56 | 617.931.2000 | Freihofer's Jazz Festival, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga, New York | June 27 | $41.50 - $62.50 | 518.584.9330 |

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