KENNY GARRETT / “African Exchange Student”
We, the people of color, have lost our focus.Most people say it: when I get established I’m going to…. Most people don’t do it. Kenny Garrett is not most people.
Try to read through the deception and believe in yourselves – the Children of God – that there’s hope! Stop to think! Stop killing each other as if our lives don’t mean anything. You are destroying our race.
Rise above all things and the cycles of the slave mentality generations and start making strides…
When he blazed onto the international jazz scene he was the saxophone foil for Miles Davis. Kenny vowed jazz was his future, even as he labored in the pop-fusion vineyards of nu-bop godhead Miles Davis. A funny thing happened on the way to commercial success: Garrett kept his word. He has produced a body of uncompromising jazz recordings.
Which is not to say Kenny has not done commercially-oriented projects. He has. Portions of African Exchange Student are a prime example. But the fact is, the arc of his recording career has long since left commercialism behind. Garrett is the exact opposite of many jazz artists who start off hard and over the course of a decade or so, end up going for popularity; or, as one jazz veteran was heard to say to another stalwart: "I’ve made music [before], now I’m going to make me some money!"
I stress this aspect of Garrett’s career because escaping the shackles of the backbeat is no easy task if one wants to make a career of music in today’s current atmosphere where, at least as far as the major record companies are concerned, jazz is nothing but another word for instrumental pop music. It better either be something to dance to or some pretty making-out music, which is that slave mentality Kenny referenced; a slave to the dollar.
Significantly, Garrett is not rebelling for the sake of rebelling. He is actually into hip music, music for souls who want to make strides, who want to change their lives, challenge the powers that be, create a better and more beautiful world.
On top of the nobility of his intentions, Kenny Garrett also has masterful skill in terms of his execution.
The man has produced marvelous music. Of all the current crop of saxophonists, I gravitate toward Garrett. His tone is warm, hugely happy and optimistic even when he is full out screaming. Plus, he is adventurous. Not satisfied with the easy. Always stretching off into the great beyond. Encouraging us to, well, to make strides and step off towards tomorrow.
And his chosen horn is the alto saxophone. Strange. Because post-Sixties, most cats were captivated by Trane and ran that tenor thing. Kenny was on that train, but he adopted Trane’s first horn, the alto, rather than Trane’s most famous horn, the tenor. Garrett’s admiration of Trane, perhaps, did lead to Kenny doubling on the soprano saxophone. (Not that many alto saxophonist do. The soprano is in a different key, different fingering and stuff. Whereas for tenor players, being in the same key, the soprano is a natural extension).
I also like that Kenny is a composer and that his albums are albums with a purpose. There is a coherence to how Kenny selects songs and sidemen. A native of Detroit, the well known Motor City of jazz which has produced a plethora of jazz talent. Kenny Garrett is a potent, prime and beautiful example of modern jazz in an age when many think of jazz as on its last legs.
Three examples for your listening enjoyment. The first is an extended solo on “Human Nature,” Kenny with Miles. Kenny does his blues thing. If Miles was JB, Kenny is Maceo blowing up a whirlwind. The second example is “African Exchange Student.” Jazzy and funky at the same time. The third example, “Dear Lord,” is from one of my favorite of Garrett’s recordings — Pursuance: The Music of John Coltrane, which features Pat Metheny on guitar, Rodney Whitaker on bass and Brian Blade on drums. This cut illustrates Kenny’s lyricism and reminds us that the alto saxophone’s lineage includes greats like Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker and Cannnonball Adderley, all of whom were master balladers.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Delicate yet spiritual
I'm not feeling the "Human Nature" thing. I don't know if it's the tinny, lightweight sound Miles adopted for his later work or if it's the subconscious negative feelings that I get for all things associated with Mr. Jesus Juice himself, but I'm just not hearing it. I do like the other two tracks. I don't own many albums by alto saxophonists—I have a couple of Wes Anderson CDs and a 10-CD Charlie Parker box set that I got as a gift; that's about it—so Kenny's sound took a little getting used to for me. Alto is not as pretty as soprano, but it's not as heavy as tenor. Initially, it sounds 'stuck in the middle' to me. But after a few listens, I started feeling the groove on "African Exchange Student." I particularly like the way Kenny starts off his solo by playing and repeating soulful phrases instead of going for the 'lyrical progression' thing that so many cats do. It's a hip piece. "Dear Lord" is the type of tune that I'm looking forward to adding to my 'Morning Jazz' mix. It's tunes like Bill Evans' "You Must Believe In Spring," Lonnie Liston's "Imani" and Sun Ra's "Journey To The Stars." Tunes that are delicate yet spiritual—the perfect way to start a weekend morning.
—Mtume ya Salaam
Funny you should mention that
So you let Miles' tinny sound prevent you from digging Kenny's soul-filled solo?
I thought it was the height of egoistic irony that Miles claimed "That wasn't nothing. I do that every night," when the audience was offering an ovation for Kenny, not for Miles. But then, in another way, Miles is right, he could give Kenny room to solo every night and Kenny without ever failing would always burn the house down!
Mtume, in your own insightful way you echo my distinctions between jazz solos and funk solos. I encourage you to check Kenny's "Human Nature" solo again because in the beginning Kenny does an amazing thing—well he does an equally amazing thing at the end but right now I'm focusing on the beginning—when Kenny slides up under Miles, Kenny starts off with his alto sounding like a soprano, sweet and with a lot of air in the tones, especially when he hits those low notes, and then gradually he roughs up the sound. We hear the evolution of the alto saxophone from the light lyricism of Johnny Hodges to the deep funk of Maceo with touches of Cannonball in the interim. As Kenny turns up the heat, the solo becomes a textbook in alto funk.
Also, it is significant that all of the "Morning Jazz" references you offer are jazz cats, which is consistent with the fact that "Dear Lord" is a Coltrane/jazz composition. Therein we hear the hard contrast between Kenny the funk player and Kenny the jazz player and it is immediately obvious even without an accompanying text to point it out.
Finally, I must note, with a twinkle in my eye and a sarcastic smile on my lips, that "tinny" sound you dislike about Miles was a Miles trademark and is undoubtedly one of the things that jazzheads dug about Miles. One person's hip is another person's shit... ain't life funny?
—Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Saturday, April 15th, 2006 at 11:55 pm and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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