Kenny Garrett (Ronnie Scott’s, 24-26 November)

Detroit-born alto saxophonist KENNY GARRETT has won a dozen Downbeat polls – almost all from its readers rather than critics. He will be performing a three-night residency at Ronnie Scott’s from 24-26 November. Charles Rees writes: 

Kenny Garrett. Photo by Jimmy Katz supplied by Mack Avenue Records

In his younger years, Kenny Garrett worked extensively with greats. There were stints with Miles Davis, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra… Having now passed the age of sixty, he has built a great career as a leader.

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Garrett has undeniably become an era-defining saxophonist. An improviser and composer of astonishing fluency, he has touched a generation of musicians and single-handedly influenced a change in the sound of younger altoists. Yet, his music is also accessible to casual fans; one important album from 1999 is called “Simply Said”, and the permanent quest for directness in communication is a hallmark.

What I enjoy most about his playing is the captivating way he builds his solos, taking plenty of time to craft highly intricate lines out of the simplest of phrases. It is a skill that even the best musicians strive to better, and few do it as well as Garrett does. His solo on Tom Harrell’s composition ‘Moon Alley‘ perfectly illustrates this…

Not only does he carry through the jazz tradition, but – having grown up in Detroit – he is equally steeped in Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and other Motown artists. He has fused the elements of that music – soul, gospel, world music and R&B – into his personal idiom, choosing to increasingly pursue this direction in recent years.

This fascinating juxtaposition, and what he is able to bring from working with it, is one of the main ideas behind his most recent album, “Sounds from the Ancestors”: “The concept initially was about trying to get some of the musical sounds that I remembered as a kid growing up — sounds that lift your spirit from people like John Coltrane, ‘A Love Supreme’; Aretha Franklin, ‘ Amazing Grace’; Marvin Gaye, ‘What’s Going On’; and the spiritual side of the church.”

His programme at Ronnie Scott’s later this month will include the music from this album, with a band consisting of Vernell Brown on piano, Corcoran Holt on bass and Rudy Bird on percussion – all of whom are on the album – plus Samuel Laviso on drums.

LINKS: Kenny Garrett’s website

Ronnie Scott’s booking link

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