Bentley’s Bandstand: Gary Burton (with Pat Metheny), Candye Kane, Tom Brosseau

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billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY

Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow, Antonio Sanchez, Quartet Live, Concord Records

bandquartet120Gary Burton’s bands have been making mesmerizing music for a very long time. It could be because Burton’s vibraphone has a touch of the eternal in it, and the way he uses the instrument takes it to a celestial sphere. Guitarists have always been his special sidekicks, starting with Hank Garland and including the famous ’60s quartet with Larry Coryell. In the hands of a lesser talent, the vibes can get close to being a novelty instrument, something a group pulls out as glorified percussion. But not with Gary Burton. He approaches it like a piano you hit with mallets. The way he builds chords and takes single note solos is like watching someone repair a Swiss watch: meticulous with a touch of the tightrope artist involved. This 2007 live recording at Yoshi’s nightclub in Oakland finds the vibraphonist in stellar company. Guitarist Pat Metheny is in a class by himself. He approaches the instrument like there are endless puzzles to solve, and then goes about their solution with such fire and fluidity he usually leaves listeners speechless. He has played in so many different settings as to defy definition, but once again on Quartet Live Metheny is off in his own world of inspiration. He swings from quiet to gale force, yet somehow always sounds completely in sync with the other musicians. Steve Swallow’s electric bass has been in Gary Burton’s company before, and it shows. He is a totally sympathetic bassist who also knows how to push the other players, the key to longevity in the position. And drummer Antonio Sanchez is born to perform in this group. His playing is built on the power of dynamics, and very few modern masters have quite Sanchez’s touch. Swallow’s “Falling Grace” and Burton original “Walter L” fit snugly next to Metheny’s “B and G” and “Missouri Uncompromised” and Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine.” What the album really is, though, is an incredibly crafted blowing session, with each musician contributing an ability only they can. The Peter Max cover illustration shows a planet erupting, and it’s obvious that image is no accident. Every one of these men was ready to take off from the first note.

Tom BrosseauPosthumous Success, FatCat Records

images-2There are some musicians who sound like they belong between the covers of a book. Tom Brosseau is one.  His lyrics evoke older places and people with such clarity and charge that the young North Dakotan might well have spent as much time in libraries as nightclubs. What makes Brosseau so unique is how he is able to put his emotions into songs that feel like parables, but also still make perfect sense. His melodies are simultaneously ethereal and grounded, not an easy feat, while the vocals have the determined stamp of a dreamer.  His voice can drift off into space at the drop of a downbeat, and stay in orbit for the whole song, but then return to Earth with the flick of a switch. He has recorded several albums, and continues to grow into a major voice. There will be a time in a year or two when listeners will go back to Posthumous Success to find that moment when the singer-songwriter completely came into his own. After all, anyone who can write a song called “Drumroll” and make it stand up to one of Lou Reed’s standards has most assuredly hit his stride. Brosseau’s voice is deadpan without being a turn-off, and conveys the kind of urgency the quietly desperate possess under their breath. The album was recorded in New York and Oregon, bookended by the same song, “Favourite Colour Blue.” That reason for it appearing at the start and the end isn’t immediately apparent, but no doubt there is psychological import here. Figuring out just what that is proves to be a tricky task, one whose conclusion isn’t guaranteed by a long shot. Listening to Tom Brosseau promises the same challenges and rewards of living a few lifetimes, even if both come posthumously.

Candye KaneSuperhero, Delta Groove Records

bandcandy120This Southern California cyclone has been a singing treasure for a very long time. But last year when she was diagnosed with cancer, it looked like her time left might not be long. Luckily, Candye Kane fought the good fight and is now not only well, but better than ever. Superhero is bad to the bone, a spirited mix of barroom blues, tender ballads and rootsy rock, with a studio full of revved-up vets supplying the groove behind her. Kane’s vivacious voice has always been big, but there is now an electrified power in it, like she discovered some special juju during her illness and is bringing the good news to share with us. “Don’t Cry for Me New Jersey” lets her explore different territory, and it’s a beautiful sound, but she can turn around and burn Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love” to the ground. Producer-ultra cool guitarist Laura Chavez has the perfect touch on all these songs, letting Kane count on the band to be their full time with plenty of fire and finesse. Guest vocalist-harp player Mitch Kashmar jumps in on “I Like ‘Em Stacked Like That” and “Till You Go Too Far,” along with guitarist Kid Ramos to make sure none of Candye Kane’s hot-blooded sass is missing, making those two tracks instant standouts. But the whole album is set on stun, showing how this wonder woman didn’t a little old thing like possible death get in the way of living her life. There have been so many heroes on the American roots music scene the past 30 years, from the Blasters right up to tomorrow’s young stars, but none have been more supercharged than Candye Kane. And, luckily, things are still the same. Welcome back.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins. For more reviews and music news, go to

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