Like the late actor with whom he shares a name, Philadelphia-based keyboardist Richard Burton knows all about playing roles and parts within an ensemble cast. Fat Samba is only the second CD under Burton's name during a lengthy career of sideman and session work, but it includes frequent collaborators like guitarist Ray Ferretti and keyboardist Ron Thomas.
While directing a project may be infrequent for Burton, his interaction with Ferretti, Thomas, and drummer Glenn Ferracone certainly jump-starts Fat Samba. The opening title track lives up to its name, with a thunderous intro flurry by Ferracone, textural washes by Burton, and searing solos by Ferretti.
Funk Five then echoes Return To Forever. The 5/4-timed groove is anchored by Ferracone and Ferretti (who doubles on electric bass), and features dueling synthesizer solos by Burton and Thomas, plus a frenzied repeating unison guitar figure by Ferretti and Bobby Rose that recalls Al Di Meola.
The disc's brisk pace slows afterward on pieces like Seedless (a bossa nova Burton wrote in 1979 that features him playing organ, steel drums and keyboard bass), Lydian Atmosphere (with Ferretti soloing amid the mesh created by Burton's keyboards and drum loops and Ferracone's drums) and Mr. Duke, a short funk number reminiscent of George Duke through Burton's electric piano work.
Things get more atmospheric during the second half. India features Burton's acoustic piano and droning synth figures, which accent Ferretti's ominous guitar lines. On Seven 13, the guitarist downshifts into clean tones to accommodate Burton's organ and digital piano, Brent Shallcross' rhythm guitar and Paul Klinefelter's acoustic bass to create one of the CD's jazzier pieces.
Yet things hardly end with a whimper. Burton's closing composition Bloodwyn is a 6/8-timed nod to Jethro Tull, and his electric piano, organ and keyboard bass provide the foundation. Ferretti wails like Tull's Martin Barre, and Ferracone's marching snare patterns echo that rock group's succession of creative drummers.
The track even breaks into a Ferracone drum solo 90 seconds in, which fades out as Burton gives the drummer the CD's last word as well as the first. In so doing, this role-playing keyboardist gets points for the democratic direction of his second production.
Richard Burton (piano, keyboards, organ, steel drums, drum loops)
Ray Ferretti (guitar, electric bass)
Bobby Rose (guitar)
Brent Shallcross (guitar)
Ron Thomas (keyboards)
Paul Klinefelter (acoustic bass)
Glenn Ferracone (drums)
1. Fat Samba
2. Funk Five
3. Frenzy Dance
5. Sofi Rocks
6. Lydian Atmosphere
7. Mr. Duke
11. Seven 13
12. Ill Chill