Kenny Garrett's Happy People demonstrates the respected saxophonist's ability to create a solid, richly varied collection under catastrophic circumstances. Garrett and his band were scheduled to begin recording the album in Los Angeles on Sept. 11. Naturally, all of the musicians were deeply affected by the day's tragic events, but they opted to continue the session. Garrett subsequently dedicated Happy People to those who lost their lives that day.
The tunes on Happy People reflect Garrett's wide-ranging sources of inspiration. His long-held fascination with Far Eastern music manifests itself on "Song for DiFang," an intricate composition in which Asian melodies, harmonies and rhythms meet jazz improvisation. On "Asian Medley," Garrett combines three traditional Asian songs-two Japanese, one Korean-and performs them as a series of lyrical duets with pianist Vernell Brown. Garrett tips his hat to saxophonist Billy Harper on "Brother B. Harper," a dramatic composition that finds Garrett pushing his saxophone to the limits of its upper-register range as his band escalates in intensity behind him. Bobby Hutcherson's inspired vibraphone work is featured on four tracks, including the stately "Halima's Story," which Garrett composed for his daughter. The saxophonist evokes the memory of his former boss, Miles Davis, by imitating him at the start of "Ain't Nothing but the Blues," wherein the saxophone sings and wails over a bluesy jam that spotlights guitarist Randy Razz.
Happy People is an eclectic, multilayered offering from Garrett.