For my money, there's not an alto player around today that can touch Kenny Garrett. He is perhaps the most prolific saxophonist to come along since Cannonball Adderly. And he proved it to me again last night at a smokin' performance in upstate Connecticut.
Cheney Hall, an unsuspecting 136-year-old, high-ceiling, woodfloor concert hall hidden in the hills of Manchester, Connecticut was the scene of the crime. This venue is yet another vessel in America that brings art to the people. (www.cheneyhall.org). This night it was jazz monster Kenny Garrett.
Arriving a little late (dinner downtown at an Indian restaurant took longer than expected), the band moved into position, poised and ready to play. Then Kenny took the stage. The assault was on!
Launching into "Third Quadrant", Kenny and company hit the ground running with a half-hour barrage to kick-off the evening. It was an awesome display of power. Hard-blowin' be bop. Before the audience could catch their breath, he slid slowly into a Coltrane-like ballad. (I think he said it was called "Brother B. Harper".) The song was painful and intense, building to a crescendo and slipping into Coltrane's "Central Park West". And from Coltrane into Cannonball soul. Just beautiful.
Next, it was one of his favorites, Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love." Kenny and the bassist performed a sensational duet interlude. This touring band is young, fresh and full of fever. The band is: Vernell Brown (piano), Vicente Archer (bass) and Ronald Brunner (drums). A huge sound for a quartet.
Wailing on his alto for most of the 2-hour concert, Kenny picked up the soprano for a taste of another of Mr. Garrett's mastered techniques. The band moved into a soulful, lyrical, ballad that reminded me of the late, great tenor giant Bob Berg. (www.bobberg.com)
Hip hop rappin', Kenny played with the crowd and had a great time. "Tick tock don't stop!" we all chanted together. Changing directions, he put us into a trance with a 3-song medley of Japanese and Korean folk songs on his soprano. Again, beautiful.
"Ain't Nothin' But The Blues" Kenny muttered in a raspy, Miles-like voice. With the full band swingin' hard, the night was a cleansing, rejuvenating experience. As I expected. The group closed out the evening with the catchy tune, "Happy People". We were.
This night, Kenny performed several songs from his latest release, "Standard of Language", his eighth album for Warner Brothers Records. Pick up a copy. You'll be well pleased.
"On this album, we stretchedwithout going too farto capture the energy we have live on stage," Kenny explains. "The best time to record is right after you've been on the road. When you tour a lot, the band gels and you start to understand how another player will react to what you do."
Born in Detroit, Kenny got the saxophone bug early on. His father was a tenor player. The Motor City gave young Kenny the influences of jazz, soul, gospel, even classical music.
In 1978, Kenny hooked up with the Duke Ellington Orchestra under the direction of Duke's son, Mercer. In 1981, Kenny moved to New York City where he joined the Mel Lewis Orchestra.
By 1984, he released his first album, "Introducing Kenny Garrett" on the Criss Cross label. At the same time, he was recording with Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw. Then in 1986, Miles called.
Kenny Garrett was Miles' sax man for five years and four albums. He played with Miles in that incredible band right up until the end of Miles' incredible life. I made the annual trek into NYC to see Miles and his awe-inspiring group of musicians for years and years. Kenny Garrett has matured into the man Miles helped nurture. Go see Kenny Garrett in concert. ( www.kennygarrett.com )
Scott H. Thompson is a regular contributor for Jazziz and The Jazz Report magazines. He writes for allaboutjazz.com and ejazznews.com. He is an original member of the Jazz Journalists Association and a jazz radio veteran. Thompson wrote the CD liner notes for Herbie Hancock Headhunters, Weather Report 8:30 and George Duke Brazilian Love Affair, to name a few.
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