June 18, 2024

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Kenny Garrett Quintet live concert seasoned with jazz funk at our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festival 2023: Video, Photos

Its been eight or so years since I’ve seen Kenny Garrett live, and eight years ago I still found little appreciation for anyone that wasn’t either a trumpet player or Michael Brecker. As I’ve “matured”, at least musically, one of the things that has become important to me when hearling a modern day jazz musician perform live is that they offer a nice blend of creativity, talent, and something I will refer to as a hypnotic build of intensity.

That is exactly what alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett brought to at our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festival 2023 in Berlin, Germany. While many jazz musicians feel that they can get away with playing six songs at fifteen minutes each in a ninety minute set, featuring themselves for 85 of those minutes, it often leads to a certain repetitiveness. It’s as if they end up telling the same story over and over, and leaves listeners squirming in their seat forty minutes into the show.

That doesn’t mean that the music has to be “in-your-face”, or even intense in the general meaning of the word. I just mean that if you are going to tell me a story, have that story build to a point that it is so interesting that I lose track of what else is going on around me.

They ended their exhilarating set with the funky Caribbean-style ‘Happy People’, Kenny Garrett now morphing into a rabble-rousing MC, urging the audience to clap and sing along as he rapped his way through several false endings, and the band members left the stage one by one.

Kenny Garrett Quintet in La Villette

The story was quite contrary. Garrett did indeed fill his set with long songs, but he kept each song so interesting that the set didn’t even warrant the listeners a bathroom break. Each song, no matter how it started, would build…and build… and build … where you felt that if you were to get up at any time, you would certainly be missing the most interesting part of the story.

What made it more interesting was that Garrett’s solos would begin rather intense, making you wonder where he might go from there. But not only did he manage to build off of where he started, but it was as if he wasn’t even trying, which made it more impressive. Its no wonder why Garrett has to rank in the top three living alto players.

The Detroit-born saxophonist opened his emotion-charged set with a snippet of scale, a spiritual riff and the searing alto sax cry of “Welcome Earth Song”. Chants, mantras and rhythms of Africa, Japan and South America were to follow, dancing hypnotically over a core of high-energy modal jazz. But the spirits of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane were never far away, while the long-drawn, emotionally draining finale played out to a soundtrack of diamond-hard funk.

Garrett is an intense performer who commands the stage with a strong presence and a personal sound that has been much copied but never matched. He tends to lead his bands from the front but at this gig the focus and energy were more evenly distributed. Pianist Vernell Brown delivered pulsating lines and strong two-handed rhythm, acoustic bassist Corcoran Holt punched out riffs with a round, woody tone and drummer McClenty Hunter was a fury of scattered beats with rock-steady time. Tight in the theme and responsive on the fly, the trio worked brilliantly as a unit.

Kenny Garrett, a Grammy award-winning musician, performs at Temple | Temple Now

Garrett, though he hardly spoke, was always in command, conducting first the band and then the audience with a glance, nod or beckoning wave. He plays with concentrated focus and energy whether at full force in trade-offs with the drums or romantically over rhapsodic piano. And he draws on the full spectrum of African-American music so that precisely articulated modernism ends with a holler that can make you shiver.

Jazz fans dance at Kenny Garrett’s gigs – the energy of the former Miles Davis alto saxist is infectious. Unlike some pop-leaning jazz players, though, he doesn’t dumb down the skill with which he burns through mazy, hard-bop tunes as if they were nursery rhymes. But this mostly funky and fast-moving set is aimed at booty-shaking, which raises the only catch – that Garrett live and Garrett in a studio can be two different propositions.

The funky title track features Garrett cannily building his soul-sax solo in fragments and prods, letting the rhythm section hold it together. The gentle soprano-sax weave of Waltz 3 Sisters thickens to an almost abstract intensity, and the mood piece Persian Steps – with its didgeridoo-like sounds underpinning the leader’s flute – is a teasing glimpse of a more intimately personal album.

The finale found Garrett coaxing and toasting, beatboxing and rousing the audience to action first on “Happy People” and then to “Wayne’s Thang”. The band finally left one by one, leaving Garrett alone on stage, weaving melodies round the audience’s rhythm and song. Garrett also got the crowd clapping along and asked them, “Are you feeling it?”

Unfortunately, the video is not from our festival, but it was performed with the same composition and the same composition.

Do Your Dance with Kenny Garrett in Nova Gorica - U.S. Embassy in Slovenia

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