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Spotlight Project: George Burton The Truth of What I Am > The Narcissist
Before the first note is even played, pianist and composer George Burton’s commanding presence makes apparent that he is an innovative, risk-taking bandleader. His highly anticipated debut release on Inner Circle Music, The Truth of What I Am > (is greater than) The Narcissist takes its title and inspiration from jazz iconoclast Charles Mingus, who once said: ”In my music, I’m trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it’s difficult is because I’m changing all the time.” The album is an antidote to the self-centered, narcissistic culture of “me,” and is a sonic portrait of the complexity and diversity of Burton’s artistic evolution that an artist’s vision is not solely about oneself.
Most of the tunes on here are original compositions that are treated as vehicles for interplay with each tune being a departure and a return, a collaborative pushing of the boundaries of genre, and playing music for what music is, not playing it for what people perceive it to be, “The way I run my band is always about risk-taking. There’s no safety net. We trust each other to make sure we get to where we need to go,” states Burton.
For The Truth of What I Am, Burton assembled an impressive lineup of acclaimed collaborators including guitarist Ilan Bar-Lavi, alto saxophonist Chris Hemingway, trumpeter Jason Palmer, bassist Noah Jackson, in addition to his fellow Philadelphia natives tenor/alto saxophonist Tim Warfield, trumpeter Terell Stafford, drummer Wayne Smith, Jr., and two-time Grammy winner, producer (and bassist) Derrick Hodge.
George Burton's "The Truth of What I Am > the Narcissist" from Boat Safety Films on Vimeo.
Working with Hodge in bringing the album vision to life was as natural as their longstanding friendship, “The music speaks for itself. Everything you hear on this record is George. I’m honored to be a part of that because people need and deserve to hear not just his music, but also his band and the phenomenal musicians on this record,” reflects Hodge.
Burton’s sound is an experience that connects a lost generation of listeners back to the integrity and originality of the music. Burton lived the actual “Philly experience” where alternative, hip-hop, R&B, straight-ahead jazz and avant-garde don’t just peacefully coexist but cross-pollinate. From the neo-soul days of the Five Spot with The Roots, playing iconic jazz venues with Philly hard-bop legends Shirley Scott, Bootsie Barnes, and Sid Simmons, his long tenure as the pianist for Odean Pope's massive saxophone choir and the Philadelphia-born opera "Vanqui" blending operatic and classical traditions, to his current chair as the pianist for the Saturn-loving Sun Ra Arkestra, hailed as "formidable” by NPR, and becoming a mainstay on the New York music scene and playing with established artists like Me’Shell NdegeOcéllo, J.D. Allen, Sean Jones, and James Carter, Burton’s playing and compositions blend, deconstruct, and rearrange these diverse influences into a style that JazzTimes calls “Straight-but-not-straight.”
With a few exceptions, the music on The Truth of What I Am was played live by the band at Sear Sound, sans touch-ups. The album unfolds in a kind of steady abeyance: He avoids points of landing, or settled relationships, or places of comfort. “In the jazz tradition, you write a melody, everybody solos, you go back to the head, and then the song is over,” Burton explains. “As a listener, you might even turn it off before the last melody: You know how it’s going to end. In my tunes, I like to make sure it keeps flowing, keeps pushing all the way to the end.”
What matters most to him is that the performances never hit stasis; they must constantly be unfolding further, pushing harder, as heard in the driving mix of genres and rhythm section interplay on “Stuck in the Crack,” a jet-streaming original tune, sounds anything but stuck: It’s full of patter and heralding tones on the horns, with the inertia of a small stampede.
Melodic conversations with saxophonist Tim Warfield on Burton’s two-part works “First Opinion” and “Second Opinion,” and “Ecidnac Intro” followed by “Ecidnac,” keep up a swirling intensity that’s more steadfast than cyclical.
Chris Hemingway’s alto saxophone melodies on “Song 6” and “Grace to Grass” are both a narrowing of focus and an expanding of consciousness where he perfectly complements the reverberating undertones of Ilan Bar-Lavi’s guitar and the unmistakable warmth of the Rhodes. “In Places” Terell Stafford’s trumpet explores the beauty in space, fraying and deliquescent doesn’t end so much as drop you off on a higher plane.
A sense of rich duality shows up in Burton’s two takes on “Bernie’s Tune.” He teases with a snippet of clinky, chopped-and-screwed-sounding piano, plunking out the tune’s 60-year-old stride melody on what sounds like a much older piano. Then he blasts back a few tracks later with a full-band take, surging with swing and groove.
The honesty of Burton’s artistry opens the portal to jazz music’s remarkable history and evolving future, where his comfort will always be pushing the boundaries of the present experience.
George Burton · The Truth of What I Am > The Narcissist
Inner Circle Music · Release date: October 14, 2016
Upcoming George Burton performances:
10.1.16 / Rockwood Music Hall / NYC
10.22.16 / South / Philly
pushing pushing pushing from Boat Safety Films on Vimeo.