Kenny Garrett – Back with More Great Tunes
Here in the blogosphere we’re supposed to stay on top of what’s new, and up-and-coming, and fill in the umpteen gaps where the corporate media fears to tread. By the same token, that sometimes means overlooking established artists, which can be a faux pas – some artists are established because they’re good. Case in point: Kenny Garrett, who’s got a new album out, Seeds from the Underground, his second for Mack Avenue. This one is a gem: it finds him reaching the same levels of intensity and majesty he conjured up in the 90s during his period with Kenny Kirkland. If you were lucky enough to catch those two back in the day, no further explanation is necessary. From the looks of this lineup – Benito Gonzalez on piano, Nat Reeves on bass, Ronald Bruner on drums and Rudy Bird on bata – at first glance you might think it’s a latin thing, and although there are some near-equatorial rhythms here, it’s very eclectic.
The opening cut is Boogety Boogety, an upbeat, catchy salsa jazz number inspired by the sounds Garrett’s dad would make while watching western movies. J. Mac Here is where the fun really begins. It’s pure vintage Garrett, a signature intense modal piece where he goes rip-roaring out into the bop-osphere but somehow manages not to lose his grip on a melodic anchor. It’s a dedication to Jackie McLean, eighth-note volleys rising to an anguish/ecstasy dichotomy. Wiggins, for Garrett’s high school band teacher, is funky and catchy but with bite, hints at a ballad and then brings back the funk. Boisterously propulsive, part blues elegy, part joyous singalong, Haynes Here is for Roy Haynes, with whom Garrett enjoyed a long association. Bruner gets a chance to flex yet handles the tempo changes elegantly; Gonzalez contributes an absolutely gorgeous, Marc Cary-esque modal solo.
They follow that with a peaceful, slow alto-and-piano homage to both trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and to Garrett’s hometown of Detroit. The title cut, a classic Garrett mini-epic, sets acidically tuneful soprano sax against moody, incisive piano and a take-charge bass/drums attack – Gonzalez again shines on this one. A joint dedication to Ellington, Monk and Woody Shaw, Du-Wo-Mo follows the same trajectory but takes a little more time to peak out, with several coy allusions to all three jazz masters, alternating insistent intensity with jaunty swing. The tropically percussive Welcome Earth Song takes a long time to get going but finally finds an unselfconsciously beautiful groove carried at first by Gonzalez, who passes it off to Garrett, who then takes it down with a rare warmth for all those low notes. The album ends with the self-explanatory Ballad Jarrett, an understatedly stellar showcase for Gonzalez, and Lavisa, i Bon?, a dedication to Guadalupean guitarist Christian Laviso. Melody, excitement, swing: it’s all here, another notch on the belt for one of this era’s major talents.