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Standout Track: No. 9, “Portrait of a Rose.” Burney used an octet on his first album, but this ballad contains only a conventional jazz piano trio. The unconventional part is that it’s the bass—Burney’s ax—leading the way, while Joel Holmes’ piano and Eric C. Kennedy’s drums accompany. The impossibly lyrical tune rests on a delicate emotional balance: It’s a sensitive melody that shifts from content to troubled moods, then back again, but moves throughout on an ambling, almost strutting rhythm.
Musical Motivation: “Portrait” was written for a friend of Burney’s: “A lady I knew who literally almost died,” he recalls. “She had some severe complications and she was within hours of dying; she survived, but that was a major-league test of her spirit.” Hence the mood change from happiness to darkness.
All That Razz: Growing up in WinstonSalem, N.C., Burney knew from childhood that he wanted to be a musician. He lists several supportive teachers who assisted him, but his choice of instrument had more to do with preadolescent teasing. “Clarinet was my first instrument,” he recalls, adding he now wishes he’d stuck with it. “But just imagine as a young boy, and having one of your friends say, ‘Herman has this long black thing in his mouth all the time!’ Being 11, 12 years old, and having that kind of comment follow you? That ended my clarinet career forever.”