Tenor saxophonist Carlos Garnett’s jazz life has played out like that John Garfield boxer flick. You know: kid with skills swings his way from town to city (Panama-Brooklyn), spars with Freddie Hubbard, becomes a contender (via Mingus), nails 1st-round KO with Miles, five successive solo title defense wins (Muse, ‘74-’80), gets big money-stoopid(Denroy Morgan’s smash hit “I’ll Do Anything for You”), hits gutter, limps back home, returns triumphant in last reel (Under Nubian Skies; High- Note), roll credits.
In reality, Garnett’s struggle for artistic/creative validity was not movie-neat. “I was here since ‘62 playin’ and gettin’ some experience,” says Garnett. “It took a long time; even though a lot of people had thought that I could, I did not go to Manhattan and play at all—I was playing all around Brooklyn and Queens [laughs]! The main thing that occurred for me was when I went out with Freddie Hubbard in 1968. After that my confidence rose and I knew that I was capable of playing with the giants.” This is the spiritual key to Garnett’s longevity.
Throughout Under Nubian Skies, Garnett’s quintet (featuring trumpet new jack Russell Gunn) recreates/elevates that ol’ Blue Train-Giant Steps-WayneShorter-Lee Morgan spirit-cosmic vibe with a fullness. Equal parts wild-eyed youth and old folks slo-burn, the originality of the saxophonist’s solos, vamps and eight compositions is nothing less than revelatory (just check out how “Down & Up Again” totally strips ‘n’ flips “Giant Steps”). A definitive statement.
Garnett’s jazz cinema verite ain’t over yet. “I’m writing a lot of songs based on that Latin flavor—Latin jazz, some bossa nova, some bolero jazz—for my next record. Down the road, I want to do an organ quartet kinda setting and something with voices. Each time I try to do something that I want to do ... I’m satisfied.”