Music

Kenny Garrett: Seeds from the Underground

The fiery alto player and former Miles Davis sideman delivers a program of original, driving tunes dedicated to various influences and played by his working band. Cookin’!


Kenny Garrett

Seeds from the Underground

Label: Mack Avenue
US Release Date: 2012-04-10
UK Release Date: 2012-03-13
Amazon
iTunes

Man, this band is cookin’! I know that may be a clichéd jazz word, but it’s the only tern that properly describes this album by saxophonist Kenny Garrett. This program of original tunes is played with fire and verve by Garrett’s working band, and it steams -- it swings -- it just cooks. That’s the right -- the only -- word.

Oddly enough, jazz hasn’t produced enough of these records lately. Seeds from the Underground boasts the sound of a tight-as-a-glove small jazz group, one that has played together for a while and knows how to let the sparks fly. Every tune here is an opportunity for ecstasy. Every solo tells a story. Fireworks or feeling are where every sequence is heading. This is straight-ahead jazz with the emotions turned up.

The sound of this band is generous. The Venezuelan pianist Benito Gonzalez is a maximalist, fusing plenty of world rhythms with his massive post-bop jazz chops, sounding occasionally like Herbie Hancock and more often like McCoy Tyner, but always like a young monster. Nat Reeves plays fat-toned acoustic bass, and Ronald Bruner is splashy and vibrant on drums. Then most tracks add Rudy Bird on percussion, who blends integrally with the jazz vibe, not seeming merely tacked on like too many percussions on straight-ahead dates. And, finally, several tracks add to the melodic ensemble some (mostly) wordless vocals by Nedelka Perscad -- a great, soaring sound.

Not that Seeds from the Underground is all up-tempo. Nope. But even the slower songs, the non-cookers if you will, go for the jugular. "Ballad Jarrett" is, of course, inspired the great pianist Keith, and it is an intensely melodic exercise in simmering emotion -- a down-tempo but smoldering composition that gains power from the way it holds back any sense of explosion. Also intense is "Detroit", written for Garrett’s hometown and for an early mentor, Marcus Belgrave. Garrett plays both piano and alto, accompanied only by a set of harmonized vocal "ohs" and the subtle popping and rotation of an LP spinning beneath a turntable needle. It’s a beautifully melancholy melody, played very simply (no drums, no bass, no groove) and never expanded on through improvisation. In essence, it suggests a purity of feeling and a simplicity that few jazz records get to advance directly. Only in the next-to-last bar is there a cry of raspy emotion from a voice -- and it’s perfect.

More typical, however, are the up-tempo workouts on Seeds. "J. Mac" (for Jackie McLean) is a rollicking modal tune that features thundering piano chords and a straight-ahead swinging feel. Garrett takes the first solo, and it is plain that he is charging up the hill at full speed, headed for the summit. As usual, the leader’s tone is pungent in the low register and squawking and raspy heading into the upper octave -- in short, delicious. The solo builds to a peak of longer held notes, then it reloads into swirls that spin even higher. It is exhilarating. Or check out the opener, "Boogety Boogety", with Bird percolating out front in a hip Latin groove that positively screams "Happiness!" Gonzalez’s solo here dodges and dances with smooth daring until it rises up on a series of upper register tremolos and fizzles back to the melody. Tasty.

"Du-Wo-Mo" (for Ellington, Woody Shaw, and Monk) has an off-kilter melody, as you might imagine, that lurches over of a thumping pedal-tone groove until the solos usher in straight swing. Again, Garrett’s solo takes its time but revs up higher and higher over time -- worrying certain motifs, climbing tonally, getting more raw in tone over time. The guy simply understands that jazz improvising requires storytelling.

"Laviso, I Ban" is based on some hip Guadaloupean rhythms, and it finds Garrett playing a very understated role on the main theme. Gonzalez is totally at home here, and he takes the strong first solo. But when Garrett enters for his turn, he’s on it too, this time playing a series of very quick, boppish phrases that slither through the chord changes like an asp. It’s a fitting ending for the collection: quick, burbling with rhythm, the various players all blending as if on the bandstand, and you, the listener, decidedly along for the ride.

Seeds from the Underground is not Kenny Garrett’s best record -- he’s been around since the mid-1980s and has made a consistently solid string of records include several that aim higher than this one -- and Garrett almost always achieves his goals. But Seeds is so satisfying because it is meat and potatoes jazz from a real working band and from a leader who never gets cute or pulls punches.

This is driving, cooking jazz -- old school if you will. And that’s never been easy, even if the greats make it seem so.

7

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image