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George Burton took his time before releasing his debut recording as a leader in 2016, choosing to work on his craft through supporting the likes of Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker and Meshell Ndegeocello. The result was a statement from a pianist and composer with a voice that seemed fully formed. That voice has only grown more self-assured since then, as proven by Reciprocity, his outstanding follow-up.
Like many of his contemporaries, Burton draws from a wide range of sources — the fact that he covers two pieces from Icelandic avant-rock band Sigur Rós provides a window into his thinking. The alt-rock influence is immediately evident on the opening track, “Gratitude,” on which Burton’s skittering ostinatos underpin a soaring melodic statement from the front line of soprano saxophonist Tim Warfield and alto saxophonist Chris Hemingway. But it quickly becomes clear that Burton is painting with a vast palette.
Burton is especially adept at creating a variety of moods and textures. “Tiki,” one of the Sigur Rós covers, opens with a ghostly prologue of minimalistic gestures from Burton on harmonium and guitarist Andy Bianco that drift in and out. When drummer Wayne Smith Jr. and bassist Pablo Menares join in, and Burton adds piano to the mix, the hallucinatory effect remains as the rhythmic intensity builds. On “Finite Space,” Alexa Barchini’s overdubbed wordless vocals create a choral-like, haunting atmosphere atop Smith’s skittering rhythms and Burton’s deft pianism, while Burton’s elegant touch drives the gospel-infused “Third Prayer.” The title track, featuring a doleful melody that fails to catch a spark, is the only misfire.
Sprinkled throughout the album is commentary from legendary Sun Ra Arkestra saxophonist Marshall Allen on the joys, responsibilities and dangers of making music. In Burton’s case, it’s clear that both exuberance and daring are in abundant supply.— John Frederick Moore