Yet Another Powerful Album from Kenny Garrett
The headliner at this year’s Charlie Parker Jazz Festival just keeps putting out great albums. Is there another saxophonist alive who says as much with passing tones as Kenny Garrett? His previous album Seeds from the Underground in many respects was a shout-out to many of the latest generation of jazz players that Garrett has mentored. His new one, Pushing the World Away is less eclectic, mostly a quartet session with piano and lots of latin grooves plus those menacing modal vamps that Garrett loves so much and plays with such an instantly recognizable intensity. The basic lineup alongside Garrett is Benito Gonzalez on piano, Corcoran Holt on bass and Marcus Baylor on drums, although as usual, there are many cameos.
The hard-hitting opening track, A Side Order of Hijiki is neither oceanic nor Asian-flavored but it is a little salty – the title actually references a wry Mulgrew Miller joke about Garrett’s restless style. Hey, Chick, a Corea dedication, works its way up to waltz time over Holt’s offbeat pedal pulse and then alternates between apprehensively fiery and majestic, Baylor kicking up some dust underneath.
Chucho’s Mambo, a shout-out to Chucho Valdes (who shares Garrett’s birthday) has more bite and funk, both lush and lively with guest Ravi Best on trumpet. As one might expect, Lincoln Center is an energetic, sophisticated theme that the band threatens to send whirling off the rails until Garrett finally, matter-of-factly walks his way to another one of those searing modal vamps. J’Ouvert (Homage to Sonnny Rollins) blends carefree tropicalia into a New Orleans shuffle, while That’s It hews suspiciously close to Bobby Hebb’s old soul hit, Sunny, with more of a latin flavor.
With its Cuban piano, I Say a Little Prayer totally nails the latin groove that Burt Bacharach was going for, slinky and suspenseful. The album’s title track, a long, biting soprano feature, sprinkles unexpectedly comedic riffage into the eerie blaze, its hooks alluding to a certain Paul Desmond classic. Homma San builds off a simple Asian-tinged piano riff, then Garrett takes a turn at the piano on Brother Brown, an austere, nuanced clinic in implied melody with a three-piece string section. Alpha Man, with its Lez Zep allusions, is a classic Garrett wailer and maybe the best track here, at least the most intense one. The album winds up on the same aggressive note as it began with Rotation, a blazing, allusively menacing feature for guest pianist Vernell Brown. What else is there to say about this – if adrenaline is yout thing, Garrett never fails to deliver.
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