As we celebrate the recent 80th birthday milestone of one of the great Miles saxophone foils, Miles’ last such foil continues to build on his own not-insignificant legacy.
Wayne Shorter has been getting the accolades he well deserves but Kenny Garrett has been mighty productive last 25 years, consistently making good-to-great records. Garrett has his own, highly influential way with the saxophone, has fostered the careers of musicians (like drummers Brian Blade and Jamire Williams), and, you know, he’s been a pretty good composer, too. Now coming fast on the heels of Garrett’s brilliant Seeds From The Underground (2012), Pushing The World Away is a quick follow up but no less contemplated.
While last year’s Seeds dwelled on tributes to some of his jazz heroes, World largely ends up being the same. And that’s okay: Garrett is a musician who has always deeply rooted himself in the music of his forbears as he pushes his craft forward with a modernity that only the masters can pull off.
“A Side Order of Hijiki” refers to how the late Mulgrew Miller described Garrett’s saxophone, which came to think of it, does sometimes resemble Far Eastern patterns. The band goes at 100 mph, only slowing down slightly to repeat a brief memorable, Japanese flavored motif and then it’s off to the races again. Garrett is play a highly charged alto sax, but his pianist Benito Gonzalez is keeping right up with him.
“Hey Chick” quotes from Chick Corea’s “La Fiesta,” and “Chucho’s Mambo” tributes Cuban jazz great pianist Chucho Valdés. Trumpet player Ravi Best provides some festive brass and harmony, while Garrett remains himself. The calypso flavored “J’ouvert” is a homage to Sonny Rollin. Garrett devises a clever counterpoint to Gonzalez and bassist Corcoran Holt, then tears off a very expressive solo.
Ultimately, the hero he ends up paying homage to with his music more than any other is John Coltrane, because his music is largely an extension of that by the great tenor saxophonist. “Hey Chick” could just have easily been called “Hey John” in parts and Garrett can rain down sheets of sound as good as anyone alive today. No more so is the ghost of Trane present than on the titular cut, however.
There’s usually some spiritually uplifting epic on a Garrett album, and this time it’s this nine-minute “Pushing The World Away.” Using an Elvin Jones/Reggie Workman signature swing, it starts off dark and then opens up into brightness like a Coltrane song, even borrowing the bridge Trane fashioned for “My Favorite Things.” Garrett, on his only time on the soprano sax for this record, plays with a real edge, and Brown follows with more of his Tyner-isms. Usually Garrett centerpiece songs contains wordless vocals, this time it’s some strange chanting, but it’s actually Brown making a Buddhist chant at the same time Garrett chants as a Christian.
Vernel Brown contributes his piano for a third of these twelve tracks, and his sharp, McCoy Tyner mannerisms can be heard on “Lincoln Center,” “Pushing The World Away” and especially on the explosive “Alpha Man,” which Garrett wrote with him in mind. Garrett himself puts down his sax to play piano himself on his elegant ballad “Brother Brown,” and he employs a light, sensitive touch on piano. A string accompaniment adds sentimental heft to the performance.
The Bacharach/David pop standard “I Say A Little Prayer” is the only cover, and it’s a gentle delight. He slows it down to a rhumba (assisted by Rudy Bird’s percussion) and adds a new bridge to it. “Rotation” is a straight-up blues, a big-band swing applied to a small combo that’s expanded by using both pianists (Gonzalez and Brown) and all three of the drummers (McClenty Hunter, Marcus Baylor and Mark Whitfield, Jr.).
A vast set of influences, styles and tempos make up the musical world of Kenny Garrett, all held together by a singular vision that belongs to no one but this artist. Kenny Garrett continues to produce at a high level, as attested by the songs contained in Pushing The World Away.
Pushing The World Away is due out September 17, courtesy of Mack Avenue Records.