Protean saxophonist Kenny Garrett kicks off a stint at the Jazz Showcase | Bleader

Protean saxophonist Kenny Garrett kicks off a stint at the Jazz Showcase


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Kenny Garrett
  • Keith Major
  • Kenny Garrett
Few jazz saxophonists active over the last few decades can match the skills and power of Kenny Garrett, whose talent was spotted early by the likes of Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, and, most famously, Miles Davis—all of whom hired him. Yet at the same time, few jazz artists of his ability have made so many spotty recordings, seemingly in search of a distinct sound. Garrett has made some good albums and his most recent effort, Seeds From the Underground (Mack Avenue), contains plenty of highlights, but it's often felt as if he's failed to reach his artistic potential.

As its title suggests, Garrett uses Seeds From the Underground to acknowledge some of his formative influences. The opening track, "Boogety Boogety," which gets extra polyrhythmic heft from hand percussionist Rudy Bird complementing kit drummer Ronald Bruner, is named after the sound of a galloping horse—a memory the reedist has from watching Westerns with his father as a child. Other tracks pay more obvious dues to musical mentors. "Wiggins" is for his high school band director Bill Wiggins, "J. Mac" is an homage to alto sax great Jackie McLean, "Haynes Here" nods to the brilliant drummer Roy Haynes, and "Do Wo Mo" is a three-pronged tribute to Duke Ellington, Woody Shaw, and Thelonious Monk.

Musically, the album covers a relatively broad range for a post-bop record. There's contemporary jazz-fusion disguised by acoustic instruments on "Wiggins," spiritual waltzes—with wordless singing from Nedelka Perscod—on "Haynes Here," and moody balladry on "Detroit," a meditation on his hometown with some hokey sounds of a scratchy vinyl record superimposed over the alto-piano-voice arrangement. Yet no matter which direction the band takes, the shadow of John Coltrane looms heavily over just about everything—and pianist Benito Gonzalez consistently summons the sound of McCoy Tyner as well—but it doesn't do the memory of Trane any favors on a spiritual jazz track like Garrett's "Welcome Earth Song," which gets bogged down in a too-simple melody and an even simpler message. Still, the saxophonist usually transcends the material, and there are moments on nearly every solo where he achieves the sort of lift-off most musicians strive for regularly.

Garrett kicks off a four-night engagement at the Jazz Showcase on Thursday. His quintet includes bassist Corcoran Holt, pianist Vernell Brown, drummer McClenty D. Hunter, and the recent album's percussionist Bird. Below you can check out the track "Joe Hen's Waltz," which obviously salutes Joe Henderson—it was recorded during the sessions for Seeds From the Underground, but it didn't make it onto the album.

Today's playlist:

George Jackson, Don't Count Me Out: The Fame Recordings Volume 1 (Kent)
Orchestre Super Borgon de Parakou, The Bariba Sound 1970-1976 (Analog Africa)
Heimatlieder, Heimatlieder (Jazzwerkstatt)
Fanlab Duo, Historically Innocent and Sexually Indifferent (Peira)
The Spokes, Not So Fast (Strudelmedia)


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