Album reviews

Kenny Garrett – ‘Sounds from the Ancestors’

Kenny Garrett – Sounds from the Ancestors

(Mack AvenueMAC1180 review by Graham Spry)

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Detroit-born alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett has played with many of the jazz greats in the course of his illustrious career, including Miles Davis, Art Blakey and Freddie Hubbard, a legacy which he acknowledges and continues to build upon in his own albums. His music is characterised by technical facility, compositional flair, and an enviable ability to meld compelling rhythms with attractive melodies. All this remains as true as ever on his latest album.

As the album title makes clear, Sounds from the Ancestors explores his ancestral musical legacy, exploring a variety of musical styles from Africa and the African diaspora. This is a similar approach to that taken by eminent young London-based musicians like Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia and Nérija, but with an emphasis on genres such as Afro-Cuban jazz, Black American gospel and R&B. Miles Davis’ album On The Corner is an accredited influence, but mostly for its inventive approach towards extending the jazz vocabulary. This is much more melodic music that sits comfortably within the modern jazz tradition.

In addition to Garrett’s group—Vernell Brown, Jr. (piano), Corcoran Holt (bass), Ronald Bruner (drums) and Rudy Bird (percussion)—the album hosts many guest musicians including vocalists Dwight Trible, Linny Smith, Chris Ashley Anthony and Sheherazade Holman.

The songs are all written by Garrett with the exception of a brief interpolation from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. This appears in the initial stand-out track, Hargrove, that also features the greatest number of vocal contributions, including from Garrett himself, over a rhythm that steadily progresses from a hard bop beat in the tradition of Roy Hargrove to something more Coltrane-like.

The album is bookended by two contrasting versions of an Afro-Cuban jazz tune, It’s Time To Come Home. Each of them has an infectious percussive rhythm. The first version this climaxes with Dreiser Durruthy’s vocal chant, wheeas in the second version it gradually fades away. When The Days Were Different takes its primary influences from R&B and Gospel. For Art’s Sake is most obviously a tribute to Art Blakey, but also to Tony Allen whose Afrobeat influence is evident in the thundering percussion. What Was That? and Soldiers Of The Fields/Soldats Des Champs are tunes driven by a powering percussive beat of a mostly hard bop flavour. Garrett puts down the saxophone to play a calming solo piano at the beginning and end of the title track, Sounds From The Ancestors, and contrasts it with a frenetic central section that just about contains the vocal frenzy of Dwight Trible and Pedrito Marquez.

Kenny Garrett’s albums were nominated no fewer than eight times for the Grammys in the period 1997-2013. It would be astonishing if Sounds from the Ancestors wasn’t also nominated; perhaps it might even win. Garrett continues to compose and perform at the highest level and to make tuneful and accessible music whilst still retaining his integrity.

Sounds from the Ancestors was released on 27 August 2021

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