On Standard of Language, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett explores every popular trend in jazz, covering the last fifty years of the genre’s history. From free jazz to soft and all the bop in between, Garrett’s fourth Warner Bros. release shows why he is loved by jazz-heads everywhere, from the Philharmonic to Philly’s south-side.
“What Is This Thing Called Love” is the only cover on Standard of Language, a surprising feat in the standard-obsessed jazz age of Wynton Marsalis and his followers. What is not surprising, though, is the way Garrett burns his way through this timeless Cole Porter standard.
Drummer Chris Dave’s hip hop roots definitely show through on tracks like “Kurita Sensei” and “Chief Blackwater.” Both tunes would otherwise be boring Rollins-esque hard bop if not for Dave’s funk-laden timekeeping. “XYZ” highlights Garrett’s willingness to explore elements from the free school of jazz in his soloing. Midway through his solo, Garret begins to scream note after note, bringing the tune to its emotional climax before bassist Charnett Moffett dives into a brilliantly bowed solo.
Much of the album continues in this sort of fashion. Standard of Language is mostly predictable: Blue Note-era hard bop that is sadly too reminiscent of Art Blakey, Lou Donaldson, and the aforementioned sax colossus Rollins to be worthy of any significant praise.
“Native Tongue” is Garrett’s biggest mistake on Standard of Language. Out of nowhere this hard-bopping blitzkrieg turns into soft-jazz radio fluff. Now, Rollins, Coltrane and other great jazz saxophones were all guilty of including a pop tune or two on their albums back in the day, but that was before “soft-jazz” was a label with the power to ruin one’s credibility, not to mention career. Well Kenny Garrett’s career isn’t dead yet, but his continual flirtation with the elevator-friendly side of jazz will ultimately force real jazz fans everywhere to question his stature as today’s top sax in jazz.
Then again, this stuff isn’t that different than what Garrett was doing in Miles Davis’ post-retirement bands, and jazz critics loved that crap.
So Garrett has one pop-jazz Kenny G slip upthat’s not the end of the world, is it? Standard of Language is still some of Kenny Garrett’s best work to date. His soloing is as forceful and emotional as ever, and his tunes remain rooted in bop tradition while stretching enough to incorporate today's funkier, more urban sounds.
Track Listing: 1. what is this thing called love 2. kurita sensei 3. xyz 4. native tongue 5. chief blackwater 6. doc
tone's short speech 7. just a second to catch my breath 8. gendai 9. standard of language I II III
Personnel: Kenny Garrett, alto and soprano; Vernell Brown, jr., piano; Charnett Moffett, bass; Chris Dave, drums