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Kenny Garrett: Sounds From The Ancestors

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Kenny Garrett: Sounds From The Ancestors
On Sounds from the Ancestors, Kenny Garrett's fifth album for Mack Avenue and his first since Do You Dance! (Mack Avenue 2016), the former saxophonist for both Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis, turns to the past for inspiration. From the Motown and gospel music he was weaned on as a youth growing up in Detroit, to the the hard bop of Blakey and post-bop of John Coltrane , Garrett wears his influences proudly on his sleeve on this energetic set. But the ancestors of the title refers more to Garrett's African forbearers and the deepest roots of all. It is pan-African rhythms, above all else, that permeate this music.

The album begins and ends with ten-minute versions of "It's Time to Come Home," where loping rhythms and a piano motif that never gives up provide the canvas for Garret's languid, melodious improvisation. In the home stretches of these mirror-image, Afro-Cuban bookends, Garrett riffs and chirps rhythmically to the accompaniment of percussion, piano and African vocals. These are opening and closing statements that see Garrett plant his standard in African soil. Everything that comes in between, on the remaining six originals, is a tributary of this main source.

The infectious melody and groove of "Hargrove" pays sunny tribute to trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Here, Maurice Brown blows an upbeat solo over a chanted refrain of "A Love Supreme," a throwback to Garrett's Pursuance: The Music of John Coltrane (Warner Bros. Records, 1996). Coltrane's abiding influence on Garrett is evoked in more personal terms on the epic "Soldiers of the Fields/Soldats des Champs," where the leader's outstanding playing bridges Coltrane's tender melodicism and his searing intensity. Pianist Vernell Brown Jr. also burns on this polyrhythmically vibrant track where martial beats and Afro-Caribbean flavors fuse to potent effect.

Though Garrett cites Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye as touchstones, there is more than a hint of Stevie Wonder's shadow on the cheery "When the Days Were Different," where saxophone and wordless vocals mesh over a repetitive piano motif. "For Art's Sake," a nominal salute to Blakey, also tips a wink to the Afrobeat of Tony Allen, with some Joe Zawinul-esque keyboard textures lending a modern slant. African percussion ripples throughout "What Was That?," another impassioned slice of Coltrane-ish post-bop which stokes Garrett and Brown Jr.'s fires.

After all the bustle and intensity of the preceding fifty minutes, the delicate piano intro to "Sounds from The Ancestors" provides a brief and welcome change of tone. The exquisite reverie is soon replaced, almost inevitably, by rhythmic lift-off. Powerful Yoruban vocals and wailing, Screamin' Jay Hawkins-like interjections vie with Garrett's keening, Gospel-fired exclamations in a heady stew.

Garrett's embrace of the musical highways and byways that have informed his evolution sounds respectful but never overly reverential, rooted yet free of constraints. Greater variation in mood might have made for a deeper emotional offering, but that is a minor quibble. A highly enjoyable ride from start to finish.

Track Listing

It's Time To Come Home; Hargrove; When the Days Were Different; For Art's Sake; What Was That?; Soldiers of the Field/Soldats des Champs; Sounds from the Ancestors; It's Time To Come Home (original).

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Kenny Garrett: vocals (2), electric piano (2-4, 6), piano intro/outro (7); Rudy Bird: snare (6); Jean Baylor: vocals (1); Dreiser Durruthy: vocals, bata (1); Maurice Brown: trumpet (2); Linny Smith: vocals (2-3); Chris Ashley Anthony: vocals (2-3); Sheherazzade Holman: vocals (2-3); Johnny Mercier: piano, organ (3), Fender Rhodes (4); Lenny White: snare (6); Pedrito Martinez: vocals, conga (7); Dwight Trible: vocals (7).

Album information

Title: Sounds From The Ancestors | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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