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Combustion: Kenny Garrett Live

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Kenny Garrett no longer deserves to be dubbed "The Guy Who Worked with Miles." He has proven his musical autonomy. Garrett is now empowered to do for his young band what Miles Davis did for him.

If Davis was watching, he smiled widely as the Kenny Garrett Quartet sizzled 70 people for 65 minutes at Vancouver's west side Jazz Cellar (a classy place) on May 12. Davis would greatly approve of his former band mate's ascension to a level of jazz musicianship that leaves people's mouths ajar.

As he did with his newly released Warner album, Standard of Language, Kenny Garrett came out smoking, almost to the excess of tolerance. He unleashed a 25 minute version of "XYZ" that left little structural room for solos, and it sounded like four soloists rampaging to their musical points. It was a telling irony: to so stretch a song live that was abbreviated on record.

This is great if you appreciate jazz the way Garrett does. For the less developed sensibility, much of the evening's first set might have sounded like a collage of noise.

The divergent musical personalities of Garrett's band drove this live performance to an admirable level of technical accomplishment. Throughout, pianist Vernell Brown placed his measured chording in contrast to Garrett's ranging sax work (although Brown ranged nicely himself). Bassist Chris Funn wore little facial expression but he explored the dynamism of every fret, whether by ensemble or solo. Occasionally, he nodded knowingly to the other players.

Drummers like Ronald Bruner do not come along very often. Bruner's technical mastery and his youthful ambition so empowered the quartet that the Vancouver faithful howled at his aural conclusions. His strokes and accents combined for stunning effect, sometimes sounding like ecstatic piston fire. One can only shake a head, and grin, when a drummer this good strides off a stage into the human world.

Kenny Garrett's stage performance shows us how much learned from Miles Davis.

Garrett's too cool persona on stage, however, is not his mentor's mythic presence. The crowd clapped and most expressed its appreciation with the funky, rhythmic conclusion to the set, but the vast majority in this audience seemed slightly puzzled as waves of musical furore passed. Garrett urged on the crowd by calling for applause as many as three times. If you really are too cool, the music itself inspires critics to offer credit to the artist.

This may not be entirely Garrett's fault. It is hard to say you love something if you may not understand it. On this night, few heads bobbed in time with what was happening on stage until the end.

No matter how you heard it, jazz is greatly refreshed when artists of Kenny Garrett's supreme calibre travel to intimate venues to wail for a few dozen patrons. The jazz genre is alive and well. Garrett now proceeds with solo work (with Herbie Hancock, Roy Haynes and Roy Hargove) before reconvening his quartet for engagements in Europe this summer.


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