Certainly not all, but a significant portion of the joy that I have derived from music, especially in recent years, can be traced to my profound love and respect for the artistry of Miles Dewey Davis III. Not only was the foundation of my jazz collection built from careful study of every session player on his monumental releases, but my appreciation for more familiar folks like James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone increased exponentially upon word of their influence on the Prince of Darkness’ work. Now I’ll be the first to admit that making purchases based on a musician’s direct and indirect connection to a particular individual ain’t the smartest move in the world, but I can say without reservation that my Milesian approach to collecting music has proven very beneficial. Top-notch artists that may have flown under my radar quickly became sources of great inspiration.
One such person is the amazing saxophonist, Kenny Garrett, who played with Davis during the 1980s. Combining the adventurism of Davis, the deep spirituality of John Coltrane, and the esotericism of Wayne Shorter, Garrett absorbed the lessons acquired from his tenure with Davis to build a remarkable career for himself. Signing with Warner Brothers in the late ‘80s, he claims an impressive discography comprised of powerful studio recordings like Pursuance, Triology, Songbook, and Standard Language.
Thankfully, Kenny Garrett’s brilliance as a live performer has finally been captured with the release of his debut recording on the Detroit-based label, Mack Avenue: Sketches of MD: Live at the Iridium. If you’ve had the fortune of seeing Garrett live, the magic he captures on this disc, which features the legendary Pharaoh Sanders, pianist Benito Gonzales, drummer Jamire Williams, and bassist Nat Reeves, should come as no surprise. The disc’s opener, “The Ring”, provides a perfect showcase of the intellectual curiosity and spiritual probing that makes Garrett’s music so captivating. Shrieks and honks by Garrett and Pharaoh Sanders not only conjure up spirits from jazz’s illustrious past, but summon us to participate in their spiritual communion. Here, Garrett reminds me of two artists who share his Detroit roots: the late Alice Coltrane and Yusef Lateef.
If you listen to classic cuts like Coltrane’s “Turiya and Ramakrishna” or Lateef’s “Russell and Elliot”, and “Morning”, you hear two artists with the ability to transport the listener to a distant spiritual land, yet remain firmly grounded in a particularized setting. That is, even as their spiritual loyalties and inspirations turned to the East, their music still bore the imprint of the Holy Roller church of Detroit. The same thing can be said about Kenny Garrett, who like his slightly younger colleagues Brian Blade and Meshell Ndegeocello, has always betrayed a deep spiritual sensibility. One always gets the impression that Garrett plays to, for, and through a much higher power. To those appreciative of the spiritual side of Garrett’s work, Sketches of MD’s second track, “Intro to Africa” should be a special treat. Enriched by Garrett’s ferocious playing and Pharaoh spine-chilling hums, the song is eight minutes of pure joy and spiritual ecstasy.
Moving from introspective meditation to a more upbeat disposition, the album ends with three cookers, “Sketches of MD”, “Wayne’s Thing”, and “Happy People”. Surely the last song may underwhelm more straight ahead fans, but the disc as a whole hardly disappoints.