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Kenny Garrett: Sketches of MD

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Alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s decision to continue working with the great Pharoah Sanders has not only resuscitated the great tenor’s career-it has also kicked Garrett’s own work up a notch. Garrett was already playing major-league jazz long before he recruited Sanders for the 2006 album Beyond the Wall, but now it seems as though their association is pushing Garrett to new heights.

Garrett’s new album, whose full title is Sketches of MD: Live at the Iridium featuring Pharoah Sanders, nods to the spirit of Miles Davis, with whom Garrett apprenticed so many years ago. But many influences are found within these five long tunes, not just Miles: You can hear John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Cannonball Adderley and others. On the opener, “The Ring,” Garrett’s quintet pays homage to Coltrane’s great quartet featuring McCoy Tyner. Pianist Benito Gonzalez pounds out thick minor chords, and Garrett pokes notes into the crevices of the groove created by bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Jamire Williams. Garrett bleats and squawks, and he blows quick jabs and long sustains. When he’s done, Sanders enters with a softer, rounder tone, more heartfelt than angry. “Intro to Africa” is a slow-gaited march, mysterious, almost ominous, an entire song built on a repeating four-bar phrase of six notes. For the whole of the tune, one saxophone states the theme while the other improvises across it. It’s so simple, and yet when it’s over we still want more.

The title tune is a modal ode to Miles, and here Garrett transforms his own sounds with effects that echo and flange. A blown phrase becomes an electronic groove. Gonzalez switches to electronic piano, and then we get it: Tools from Miles’ various eras are being employed. The tune ends in an ambient wash reminiscent of “In a Silent Way.” Jubilation concludes the disc with 11 minutes each of the funky, slithering “Wayne’s Thang” and the ecstatic “Happy People,” which has become Garrett’s calling card, the song he likes to conclude concerts with, sending his audience out on a cloud.

Originally Published