Reviews & Opinions

Jazz Road Trip: KENNY GARRETT

Gary FinneyBy Gary Finney

While having heard Kenny Garrett play with Miles on two occasions in the late eighties, the opportunity to hear him lead his own band hadn’t presented itself since his appearance at the Jazz & Blues Festival in Erie back in 1995. So it was with great anticipation that the reviewer attended this nearly sold out gig on the first full day of Cleveland’s 2013 Tri-C Jazz Festival.

Kenny Garrett  Garrett at Tri-C.

 The Ohio Theater is an ornate, cozy 1,000 seat venue that afforded the best setting, outside of a Manhattan  club, for hearing Garrett’s current quintet. They led off with “Boogety Boogety” which also happens to be the leadoff track on Garret’s most recent recording “Seeds From The Underground.”  Garret’s muscular style rode atop a wave of percolating rhythms from drummer McClenty Hunter and Corcoran Holt’s thunderous bass groove. Garrett’s tone was biting and aggressive, yet not off-putting, which helped to mask the fact that this urgent tune was a complex 7/4 polyrhythmic workout. As his solo built in intensity, with a constant rush of ideas over the course of nearly ten minutes, Garrett began rocking back and forth at such extreme angles that he resembled a Weeble toy. Pianist Benito Gonzalez scrambled to ascend above the powerful music’s foundation, but soon was delivering a solo that had obvious Latin tinges as his notes began dancing like moonlight upon a secluded lake.

Album cover: Seeds From The UndergroundTributes to mentors: McLean.

The current CD recording is a tribute to Garrett’s musical influences and the next tune on the live set list, which is also on the CD, was written with alto saxophonist/educator Jackie McLean in mind. “JMAC” was taken at a furious pace, with Holt’s bass not walking, but more like running a 440 meter race. His long fingers resembled the appendages of a Daddy-Long-Legs spider as they scurried over the fret board while the drummer supplied a hard driving swing. Percussionist Rudy Bird busily seemed to be sampling every device at his disposal as he added further coloration for this burning tune. Garrett’s pressing, big-toned sound frequently hit notes so low that you’d swear that he was playing a tenor sax, not an alto. With his horn soon crying out like some beast in the night, piano, bass and percussion dropped away, leaving Hunter and Garrett to converse one-on-one like arguers shouting over one another. Vestiges of John Coltrane and Rashied Ali’s influence, anyone?

Benito GonzalesRoy Haynes

“Haynes Here” is a nod to the octogenarian drummer and featured Bird’s wordless vocals as he sang accompanying harmony to Garrett’s melody line. The playful dance of said melody was an obvious release of the tension that had built during the two preceding numbers. And while Garrett’s intensity lessened, his tone retained its resonant presence. Gonzalez supplied another appropriate, post-modern solo that built in fervor as it went. By the time that it was in its final stages, it took on a decidedly Tyner-esque complexion, with cascades of blistering notes from the right hand and an ominous earthquaking thunder from the left hand. Hmmm, who knew?

Garrett holding seeds Coltrane.

This was obviously by design, for as the tune ended, or more appropriately segued into the next, Garrett held one long note after the other as he arched impossibly backwards with the bell of his horn cast to the heavens. Gonzalez had the piano droning like a sub-continent stringed instrument while Holt’s bass alternated low and high glissades that gave the feel of waves crashing on the beach. Roiling tom-toms and shimmering cymbal washes added to the affect, as did all manor of exotic percussion. Garrett was in the zone, channeling stream-of-consciousness playing that drew inspiration from, but did not mimic, late Coltrane. No, this was no mere copycat trick, for Garrett was deep, deep within, to that place where the spiritual essence of the music and the creator become one. Oh my God, this was remarkably galvanizing. As the tension finally broke and the energy contracted, Garrett slowly pulled his horn down as a silence settled over the stage, yet his eyes were still cast heavenward. Caught in the magic of the moment, the audience didn’t know whether to applaud or continue holding its collective breath. Eventually the former won out and the audience went berserk.

Corcoran BrownMarcus Belgrave.

The music resumed with “Detroit” a tender ballad penned in honor of Garrett’s hometown and his first important mentor, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave. This mellifluous melody was uncluttered as the quintet’s accompaniment was sparse, yet appropriately supportive. The tune “Seeds From The Underground” found Garrett switching to soprano sax, which in his hands, never sounds shrill or nasally. There was a far-flung flavor to the tune as Garrett seemed to be running Middle Eastern scales that avoided becoming ostentatious. Like everything else thus far, it was music directly from the heart.

Happy funk!

Garrett’s signature set closer “Happy People” signaled that it was time to bring on da funk. Ending a performance with something that has the audience on their feet and clapping in time to the beat and also gives them something to whistle or hum on the way home is a perfect way to get them to return for a future performance. It worked for me and hopefully it won’t be another eighteen years before the opportunity is there again.

 

May 29, 2013