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Christopher Burnett: Cbq+5: The Standards, Vol. 1—review

KC staple Christopher Burnett and crew have released a new album of standards, and it’s a delight—lively and solidly in the KC spirit. It’s traditional, but has that modern feel. As many already know, Burnett stays busy in KC, as an alto saxophonist, educator, bandleader, and composer. He has been tirelessly energetic on the scene since, as he writes, “(he) began his professional career with military jazz bands…directly upon graduating high school at 18 years old.” Burnett’s tone is warm and full, and his pacing is leisurely and confident. He’s in no rush. Decades on stage (40+), Burnett sounds utterly at home, and he leads his group assuredly through this album of standards, breathing into them new life. At times, that is through musical execution. Others, composition and invention. Burnett’s staccato, precise and timed, kick- and lick-filled ending of “Corcovado” is particularly tasty when it comes to arrangement, invention and reinvention, intricate stop and go. Also included on the album is an original, “Freedom Flight,” a tune Burnett wrote and dedicated to his Air Force pilot son. A samba, “Freedom Flight” has lift. The horns here have that warm golden-glow quality early Marsalis Brothers tracks had. Or, more local, the tune has that Sons of Brasil airy levity: strongly grooving, but swift; forward moving, never rutting. Instead, it gingerly sprints. The album moniker, “CbQ+5,” appears to refer to the Christopher Burnett quartet or quintet, plus 5. The core group includes Burnett on alto sax, guitarist Charles Gatschet, pianist Roger Wilder, bassist Bill McKemy, and drummer Clarence Smith. The “5” includes Stanton Kessler on flugelhorn, Terri Anderson Burnett and Freda Proctor on flute, Samantha Batchelor on clarinet, and Anyana Nemati on baritone sax. The group has a cohesive, unified, bright sound. They have togetherness. Recorded at BRC Audio Productions, the album has the highest production value. You can hear every bass note, finger against string; the recording is pin-drop careful and complete. Notably, Gatschet provides a tasty guitar solo on “All the Things You Are.” And drummer Smith provides a very short, engaging solo at the end of “Corcovado.” “Windows” features breathy, shimmering flute work by Terri Anderson Burnett and Freda Proctor that helps open the sail for Chris Burnett to soar on sax. There is a retro element to this album. Some songs could easily appear on the Retro Cocktail Hour, with Darrell Brogdon, on KPR. But there is a difference. There’s more here. Although Burnett’s album is timelessly catchy, these songs are not simple background. They are more soulful, open to complexity and greater contemplation. This satisfying album can be found on the Artists Recording Label (ARC), cofounded by Burnett. Burnett seems to be aiming for a cross section of KC jazz, a true view: “I wanted …both male and female musicians…representatives from all adult generations…(which) adds realism to music of this depth…more inherently parallel to real life.” Burnett praised his musical crew: “I’m fortunate to have some of the best performing and teaching artists in my working band. They are all leaders, but they embrace my project and vision without hesitation.” You can hear that cohesion and shared purpose—a kind of accomplished humility and unity. This is an expertly crafted album, and it is one that honors the current KC tradition and features a number of its local luminaries. It is an album to acquire, admire, and enjoy.

—Kevin Rabas

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