THE GARY BURTON Generations quintet and the BAD PLUS as part of the Downtown Jazz Festival, Nathan Phillips Square, July 3. Tickets: $30. Attendance: 850. Rating: NNNN
If you want jazz on steroids, the Bad Plus are your band. The openers for Saturday night's Downtown Jazz Festival concert were marketed as the world's loudest piano trio ever - not exactly the most coveted accolade for jazz musicians. But while pianist Ethan Iverson , bassist Reid Anderson and especially drummer David King definitely live up to their billing, it's clear, too, that these guys have chops.
The interplay among the band members couldn't have been tighter, and the soloing matched the volume in its relentless intensity.
Not that they lacked humour. In one untitled tune, thunderous climaxes gave way to a quirky solo run up the bass strings. During his solo, King fumbled with an aluminum pot, sliding it back and forth across the shells of his drums.
The set's highlight was King's 1979 Semi-finalist, a musical impression of a man whose bowling team loses a tournament even though he plays the best game of his life. It had an interesting, angular melody and funky groove, and Bad Plus let up a little to tell a meaningful human story.
Gary Burton , the iconic, 61-year-old vibraphonist, shared the stage with 16-year-old guitarist Julian Lage . His Generations Quintet also included bassist Luques Curtis and drummer James Williams , who didn't appear much older than Lage, and pianist Makoto Ozone . They kicked off the second half of the show with Lage's First Impressions. The tune's infectious rhythmic undercurrent, combined with the lighter textures of the vibes and piano, couldn't have contrasted more with the in-your-face tone of the first half.
Lage already plays like a veteran, with effortless technique and a masterful melodic and rhythmic sense. Burton discovered Pat Metheny 30 years ago. Looks like he's struck gold again.
The tunes, mostly from their latest Generations CD, covered everything from Lage's Early, a Piazzolla-inspired tango, to a thrilling version of Oscar Peterson's Wheatland, to the blues. But nothing topped Carla Bley's Syndrome. Egged on by Williams's propulsive drumming, Ozone and Lage played as if on fire. Burton's four-mallet wizardry never ceases to amaze, and he picked up where the others left off, dazzling with a solo filled with inventive twists and lightning-fast runs.
This is Burton's best band since the 70s.