Kenny Garrett's latest release, Simply Said (Warner Brothers), features a tight, versatile quartet that complements Garrett's alto and soprano saxes with piano or organ (and, on two tracks, Pat Metheny's guitar), but to my ears it's one of his least exciting efforts. Simply Said could infiltrate "contemporary jazz"--the domain of that other Kenny G--since for the most part it favors simple melodies and softened textures over Garrett's usual fire-breathing angularity. But in his walk on the mild side, Garrett genuinely engages a kind of music that almost never sounds this good: unlike an actual contempo-jazz saxist, he infuses his playing with nuances that invite repeated listening. And his true colors shine through on two tracks near the disc's end, where he cuts loose with the blistering attack, pretzel-logic improvisations, and dark, puckered tone that characterize his live sets. Not yet 40, Garrett made his reputation with stints in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and Miles Davis's electric fusion band of the 80s, playing styles that span 50 years of jazz history. On his last couple albums he's covered quite a bit of territory as well: Pursuance, from 1996, convincingly follows Coltrane's muse, and Songbook, from '97, focuses on Garrett's own compositions for a harder-driving quartet. Simply Said stems from that same creative restlessness, which marks Garrett as a leading prospect to shepherd jazz into the 21st century. His touring band is the one on the new album, with pianist Shedrick Mitchell, bassist Nat Reeves, and drummer Chris Dave. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, September 10 and 11, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, September 12, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. Garrett also performs solo next Saturday, September 11, at 1 PM at Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andrew Eccles.