The most important vibes-playing jazzman since Milt Jackson makes one of his semiannual visits with a vibrant quintet. Burton's career reveals a knack for finding dynamic, even prescient guitarists: Larry Coryell, the lesser-known Mick Goodrick, and Pat Metheny all achieved their first fame with Burton's groups. But throughout the 80s Burton's band remained guitarless, until the arrival (from Austria) of Wolfgang Muthspiel, who is sure to have an impact along the lines of his predecessors. The band was already intriguing, and Muthspiel's contributions lift it over the top, making this Burton's best group since Metheny's departure. It now has three varied but complementary soloists, each of them building upon a different rhythmic base: the classically trained, rock-literate Muthspiel leans slightly ahead of the beat, while the gifted saxophonist Donny McCaslin swings in a more mainstream-jazz manner, just behind the beat--leaving the middle ground to Burton, who precisely carves the pulse into glittering filigrees while issuing one impeccable, inexorable solo after another. (It's an unexpected but altogether welcome way for that old traditionalist, Joe Segal, to reopen his jazz Showcase after two months' hibernation.) At this point, Burton's place in the music must be clear even to those unmoved by the passion of intellect that informs his improvising. Over the years, he has consistently shaped a valid contemporary art--responsive but not beholden to the forces of his time--while reiterating important lessons from the past. That's more than a neat trick, and damn close to a legacy. Tuesday through next Sunday, March 17, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 6 36 S. Michigan; 427-4300.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Catherine Goldwyn.