Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kenny Garrett - Sketches of MD (Mack Avenue, 2008)

Alto saxophonist and composer Kenny Garrett is a complex and multi-faceted musician, equally at home with burning post-bop and vamping funk jazz. Both of those are on display in this live album where he is supported by Benito Gonzales on piano, Nat Reeves on bass, Jamire Williams on drums and special guest Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone. My favorite Garrett events occur when he is ripping through a wide open free-bop performance, like the leadoff track "The Ring" which is strong modal jazz with a long meaty alto solo. Sanders comes in for a trademark rasping solo over hard comping piano that recalls the very intense music McCoy Tyner was recording in the early 1970's. "Intro to Africa" loses the momentum of the first performance with a slow and ponderous start and a feel of heaviness and a static and spiritual meditative groove that never seems to really take shape. "Sketches of MD" which is dedicated to Garrett's mentor Miles Davis incorporates some of the electronics and synths that were a hallmark of the Davis bands during Garrett's tenure in the 1980's. "Wayne's Thang" also goes for groove with a funky electric bass and electric piano feel, but never really takes off to become exciting or captivating. The disc concludes with "Happy People" featuring bass and drums funk, but unfortunately Garrett spends more time encouraging the audience than playing the saxophone. It's not that I was disappointed by this disc, but much of the music presented here leaned toward the funky aspects of Garrett's playing, where I most enjoy the burning acoustic music found on albums like Triology and Persuance. I'm also spoiled by having seen him play a small performance space in Princeton a few years ago where his opening piece absolutely ripped the roof off the place with an acoustic trio. Please understand that this is not a criticism of the band, but merely a personal preference of mine. Regardless of the caveats, this is a well played disc that shows diverse aspects of a very talented musician.

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