Kenny Garrett continues his mélange of modal exploration with Sketches of MD: Live at The Iridium. The recording is a sequel to Beyond the Wall, Garrett’s early collaboration with Pharoah Sanders, and is a snapshot of his progression.
The opening number, “The Ring,” starts with a dramatic theme stated by the alto-tenor front line. Garrett and Sanders traverse late-Trane territory in their improvisations yet they rarely scale the heights of propulsion or evoke their earlier spiritual majesty.
Like a seafaring explorer, Garrett rides waves of tradition and innovation to shores of his own making. He confidently fuses jazz and blues with allusions to gospel, funk and fusion as well as Asian and African music as on “Intro to Africa” where the Protestant Afro-American church tradition shines through.
Drummer Jamire Williams’ backbeat grounds the title tune, dedicated to Miles, with whom Garrett performed in the last five years of the trumpeter’s life. Garrett employs electronic effects, creating a sound collage that evokes the post-Bitches Brew period. The spacey mood is amplified when the backbeat ends and the quintet plays with a modified free approach.
Garrett is fond of song and album tributes, a refreshing sign of love and respect for his jazz elders. “Wayne’s Thang” refers to Wayne Shorter and, thankfully, the rhythm section finally gets some. The liberal use of breaks gives each player room for short solos; at first the interplay between Gonzalez and Garrett carries the piece until bassist Nat Reeves takes a few riffs, including a too-brief 4/4 walk, a tease for lovers of straight-ahead swing.
Yet the audience’s clapping participation on “Wayne’s Thang” and vocalizations on the feel-good, dance-beat closer “Happy People” shows other interpretations of Ellington’s dictum, “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” I’m confessin’, though, that a little taste more of swing rhythm would have made this listener happier.
Track Listing: The Ring; Intro to Africa; Sketches of MD; Wayne's Thang; Happy People.