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Native Detroiter Kenny Garrett has been on the cutting edge of jazz for some time now. The former Miles Davis sideman has built a reputation as an uncompromising trailblazer while managing to write melodic and highly accessible music. Of his many sessions, Beyond the Wall could very well be his best.
Inspired by his long-time fascination with the culture, music and spirituality of China, Garrett has captured a unique musical vision that stimulates thoughts of the Far East while simultaneously paying homage to John Coltrane and his classic quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. Veterans Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) and Coltrane contemporary Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax) lend their strength and wisdom to this outing and bring with them a spiritual vibe that raises the creativity level to incomparable heights.
The title cut is a modal powerhouse that cuts right to the bone. After the brief, sequentially patterned theme, pianist Mulgrew Miller unleashes an aggressive, knock-down, Tyneresque solo that is backed up by the one-two punch rhythm duo of bassist Robert Hurst III and drummer Brian Blade. Indeed, the heavy-handed spirit of McCoy Tyner is summoned by Miller throughout the entire recording. Garrett and Sanders also take turns fanning the flames of this eight-minute scorcher.
"Qing Wen" is a simple yet extremely lyrical tune that features wordless vocalizing (a prominent timbre throughout much of the recording) and an extended solo by Garrett that captures the kind of energy often unleashed in live performances but missing from his studio dates. "Realization (Marching Toward the Light) opens with a sampled Tibetan Monk chant that creates a drone effect underneath the subtle theme of two short four-note phrases. Hutcherson's vibes and Hurst's bowed bass add to the mysteriousness of the sound.
Hutcherson gets an opportunity to stretch out on the extended "Now, which recalls the classic recordings the vibraphonist put out during the 1960s. The ending track, "May Peace Be Upon Them, is a prayer-like evocation that sends Garrett off on a highly emotional, simply breathtaking exploration. Beyond the Wall is a wonderful testament to future directions in jazz.
Track Listing: Calling; Beyond the Wall; Qing Wen; Realization (Marching Toward the Light; Tsunami Song; Kiss to the Skies; Now; Gwoka; May Peace Be Upon Them.
Personnel: Kenny Garrett: alto saxophone (1-4,6-9), piano (5); Pharaoh Sanders: tenor saxophone (1-4,6-8); Mulgrew Miller (1-4,6-9); Robert Hurst, III: bass; Brian Blade: drums; Bobby Hutcherson: vibes (3,4,6,7,8); Ruggerio Boccato: percussion (1,3,4-8); Nedelka Echols: vocals (3,4,6,8); Genea Martin, Kevin Wheatley, Arlene Lewis, Geovanti Steward, Dawn Caveness: vocals (6,8): vocals; Guowei Wang: erhu (5); Jonathan Gandelsman: violin (5); Neil Humphrey: cello (5); Susan Jolles: harp (5).
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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