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The SNJO Presents the Music of Wayne Shorter, featuring Gary Burton.

RSAMD, 12th September 2009

This was a meeting between American vibes player Gary Burton and a big band led by his former sideman Tommy Smith to play a set of pieces written by Wayne Shorter. The challenge in the project was to find a suitable balance between the vibes and the band. Most of the arrangements succeeded, although there was the occasional point, particularly near the beginning, where the vibes were slightly submerged in the sound of a 16-piece band giving it laldy.

Each composition was arranged by a different person, and as a result the audience were presented with a range of different solutions to the vibes-orchestra balance problem. Florian Ross’s version of “Nefertiti”, for instance, alternated passages for vibes with minimal accompaniment and passages for full band. The material ranged from tunes Shorter wrote for the Jazz Messengers (“This is for Albert”) to pieces from his post-Weather Report albums (“Virgo Rising”). However the majority of the material came from his mid-60s output, and included both pieces written for Miles Davis and pieces written for his solo albums.

The arrangements were in a range of different styles, some going for a standard big band sound and others taking a more orchestral approach. I was particularly impressed by Florian Ross’s “Nefertiti”, Manu Pekar’s long moody version of “Footprints”, a gorgeous setting of “Infant Eyes” by Michael Abene, and Mike Gibb’s version of “ESP”.

Gary Burton took the vast majority of solos, and was simply excellent. Soloists from within the band included Tommy Smith (twice), Ryan Quigley, Steve Hamilton and Alyn Cosker. All acquitted themselves well, but it was essentially Burton’s show.

For an encore, we got a duet version of Chick Corea’s “Bud Powell” from Gary Burton and Tommy Smith, plus the revelation that it was Chick Corea who initially recommended that Burton should hire Smith for his band away back in the 80s.

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