Once Gary Burton retired from his duties at Berklee, he began to scale back his touring with a full-time quartet. In 2010, he assembled a new band with the phenomenal young guitarist Julian Lage (who first sat in with the vibraphonist at the age of 12), veteran bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Antonio Sanchez, all of whom have recorded as bandleaders themselves. Six of the CD's ten tracks were contributed by the quartet's members, starting with Colley's intricate "Never the Same Way," which incorporates a Latin flavor in its tricky 7/4 meter. Sanchez contributed the infectious cooker "Common Ground" (featuring great solos all around and capturing the spirit of Burton's earlier quartets), and "Did You Get It?" a lively blues with a playful call-and-response between Lage and Burton in its introduction. The leader frequently dismisses his efforts as a composer, but his bittersweet, melancholy ballad "Was It So Long Ago?" is further proof that he needs to spend more time writing; his infectious tango is a lyrical work. Lage is just as promising a songwriter as he is a guitarist. His challenging "Etude" evolved from a study piece he uses with his students; the intricate, rapid-fire introduction segues into a Spanish-flavored midsection that showcases his formidable chops. Burton also revisits songs from his past. Lage introduces "My Funny Valentine" with a well-disguised improvisation that doesn't state its well-known theme until the full band joins him near the halfway mark, then both Burton and Colley take solos, backed by Sanchez's soft but effective percussion. Burton also revisits Keith Jarrett's "In a Quiet Place," blending reflective moments with a bluesy air at times. Common Ground stands alongside the many landmark albums in Gary Burton's vast discography.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden