"Under Nubian Skies" is a swinging, well played record that shows Carlos Garnett dipping heavily into his Coltrane bag and Panamanian roots. Garnett, a legendary tenor man who is returning to performing after a self imposed exile has done stints with Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey, Woody Shaw, Charles Mingus, Pharoah Saunders, and perhaps most notably as part of Miles's groundbreaking groups of the early 1970's.
Sometimes a breath of fresh air replenishes the desire and the ability to keep doing what has nurtured your soul for a very long time. This seems to be the case for the tenor man. Perhaps Garnett's six year break from the business, and his cleaning up of his lifestyle have contributed to the clarity on evidence here. On "Under Nubian Skies", a record with eight original compositions, Garnett, by day a parole officer in New York City is joined by a rhythm section of Carlton Holmes on piano, Brad Jones on bass and Shingo Okudaira sounding very Elvinish on the trap set. The leader made a wise choice in choosing trumpeter Russell Gunn for the date. Gunn, a member of Branford's alter ego, Buqueshot LeFounke, and off and on member of the LCJO, is in fine form throughout. The multifaceted Gunn has also released a High Note recording, "Love Requiem", and a well conceived effort, "Ethnomusicology", his Atlantic debut.
Playing with model themes and a sampling of 5/4 rhythmic grooves, not only Garnett but the entire group are in a rather upfront acknowledgment of their debt to the late 50's to early mid 60's Trane. While that is fine, and one can argue that very few tenor or soprano players don't to some degree dip into the JC bag, this style tends to overshadow the very creative sides of Garnett and his group.
Having said that, this is a well played, well executed but not spectacular effort. The straight swinging Dancing Daffodils kicks off the disc in high gear, basically laying out the gameplan for the next hour. the catchy Happy Children Song bounces around the listener's head as it did in mine for a few days after just a few listening sessions. The centerpieces of this date are the scattered sounding What, featuring a firey performance from Gunn and the model stretching out on the title track, the task of choosing a standard to interpret can be a risky and vexing job. A very wise choice was made concerning the addition of My One And Only Love, to be sonically caressed by Garnett's horn. The tonal mixture of Gunn's slashing but accessible attack with the fleet but gruff enough sound of Garnett makes one hope that this will be a working group that will ripen with time on the bandstand and in time establish more of their own sound and approach.