January 1, 1970One piece in this week's Globe. Also a short one on the Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara in a new Men's Health offshoot called Best Life. But I haven't seen the edited version of that yet myself ...
Pianist gains momentum with new CD
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | May 14, 2004
Pianist Greg Burk, who'll be leading a quartet into the Regattabar Wednesday, is going through some impressive life changes these days.
Last month, his wife, Serena, gave birth to the couple's first child, a dark-haired little beauty named Sonia. This month, Burk's Italy-based record label, Soul Note, is releasing its second Burk CD, "Carpe Momentum," on which Burk is joined by saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, bassist Jon Robinson, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The new disc's gestation period was about double Sonia's, having been recorded a year and a half ago, but it too was well worth the wait. (Bergonzi is touring with Czech bass great Miroslav Vitous, so Burk's Berklee colleague Rick DiMuzio will fill in on sax.)
All eight compositions on the disc are Burk's. They include a pair of pieces for his wife, "Serena al Telefono" (based on Burk having observed her from the next room as she chatted long-distance with family back in Rome) and "Hymn for Her," and another that was written for George Russell during Burk's graduate studies at the New England Conservatory. One piece, "Ink," is named ironically for the negligible amount of the substance expended in composing it — the tune is "a through-composed rubato piece" in which written fragments connect the predominating free passages.
"Burk's Quirks" is an homage to Dizzy Gillespie built around a classic-sounding bebop melody. "There's a famous Dizzy Gillespie tune called `Birk's Works,' " explains Burk. "His middle name was Birk."
"Burk's Quirks" leads off the disc and sets the tone for all to follow. The pianist's recent work is a deliberate attempt to meld his more traditional bebop roots with the free-flowing modernism he long confined to the practice room.
"A lot of this record," Burk says, "is a conscious attempt to play in and out and to alternate in between, not only in terms of harmony and melody, but in terms of the rhythm also. Which is kind of an idea of George's — the different states of rhythmic gravity within a piece."
Besides Russell, Burk, 34, mentions Bob Moses (a sometime collaborator) and Paul Bley as having been "incredibly useful teachers" he first encountered at NEC.
One of the principal lessons dispensed by Bley is something the older pianist and composer reports he has offered others as well. "You can either play like Bud Powell did in 1950, or you can play in the future," Bley says. "The problem is, the calendar pages keep ripping off."
Burk concluded that modern was the way to go.
"I used to always play free when I practiced," he says, "but somehow it was separate from the improvising I did in a jazz context. Paul really got me thinking about how to access the most creative parts of what I had to offer musically."
Burk says he had to forget a lot of his jazz education to find "what's more personal, more unique, and therefore more sellable, really — more irreplaceable.
"I realized," he continues, "I was not using a whole part of what came to me naturally. So that's been my quest ever since."
At Bley's suggestion, Burk began recording endlessly. He did so by plowing most of his savings from his assistant professorship at Berklee into studio time. Since recording his debut Soul Note effort, "Checking In," he has recorded eight more CDs that he hopes to sell to a label and release. (He also made three other self-released CDs before joining Soul Note.)
Beyond his own projects and teaching, Burk has logged four years and two CDs with the Grammy-nominated Either/Orchestra (his tune "Look to the Lion" appears on the group's CD "Afro-Cubism"), which, like his own work, incorporates both traditional and modern structures.
"Being in the Either/Orchestra has been an incredible opportunity to bridge those two poles," Burk says. "Russ [Gershon] is a great bandleader. He really knows how to bring the best out of all the musicians. I think it has a lot to do with the material [having] that sort of space in it to play from anywhere on the spectrum. You can play very conservatively or totally abstract."
Either/Orchestra will be following Burk's own combo into the Regattabar next month. But don't expect to see a lot of Burk around town after that. In late July, he and his young family are moving from Inman Square to Rome.
"I got a leave of absence" from Berklee, Burk says. "We're going to see how it works out over there. With the kid, we want to have the family around — it's a very Italian thing to do."
Boss bossa nova: The guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli will also be celebrating an excellent new CD when he comes to town for a pair of already sold-out sets at Scullers Sunday. "Bossa Nova," he says, is the culmination of a 20-plus yearlong love for a form he first encountered on the radio while driving home from a gig with his guitar-great dad, Bucky Pizzarelli. At Scullers, Pizzarelli reports, each set will include about 35 minutes of his more familiar work and 35 minutes of bossa nova, Pizzarelli's usual trio will be enhanced by the presence of several additional musicians from the CD. One of them, Daniel Jobim, is the grandson of Antonio Carlos Jobim and will sing a handful of tunes with Pizzarelli, including perhaps the most famous bossa nova of them all: his grandfather's "The Girl From Ipanema."
Festival notes: The Newport Jazz Festival has announced more details for this year's event, which marks the festival's 50th anniversary and runs Aug. 11-15. Events on Saturday and Sunday will run longer this year, from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and will be on three stages instead of two. To find out more, go to www.newportjazz50th.com.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company