-->
Music

Kenny Garrett: Pushing the World Away

Photo: Keith Major

The gutsy, exuberant alto player emerges again with a heady mix of world sounds.


Kenny Garrett

Pushing the World Away

Label: Mack Avenue
US Release Date: 2013-09-17
UK Release Date: 2012-09-17
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

Kenny Garrett is a workhorse jazz musician—a guy who has made plenty of recordings, who has a killer working band, and who gives his all in every show. Much of his work is brilliant. He has made long strings of records that have investigated different corners of the music with intelligence and searching discovery.

But in a long career, there have been stretches of relaxation also where he played too many easy blues licks or seemed to be recording songs that were designed simply to be “funky” pop songs that hardly tested his band or his talent. Those years with the aging Miles Davis taught him some bad habits as well as some brilliance.

Pushing the World Away is Good Garrett—and following up on a really wonderful 2012 record called Seeds from the Underground that was a flat-out cooker, this is a great sign.

I’d guess it’s not coincidence that the title of this disc contains “world” and “pushing”, as these songs cover lots of territory and move gracefully away from the pure swing feel that characterized so much of Garrett’s last disc. Garrett has long been playing pianist Benito Gonzalez, so the sweet Latin groove of “Chuco’s Mambo” is a natural, with percussionist Rudy Bird locking in with drummer Marcus Baylor to create a lovely feeling of dance and movement. And “J’ouvert” is a hopping and staccato calypso tune that is, naturally, an homage to Sonny Rollins in his “St. Thomas” mode but with a richer bed of percussion giving it float and ensemble interplay.

One of the most ambitious tunes here is the title track which builds on a rolling groove played by drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr. and piles a sinuous soprano saxophone melody atop a throaty chant that punctuates the arrangement. Garrett’s solo shifts into a sunny key over a vamp reminiscent of Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things”, but the pianist Vernell Brown muddies the harmonies so that things keep moving into stranger and more interesting territory. Garrett takes plenty of harmonic liberty, and the piece veers into the edge of the avant-garde. This tune is followed by “Homma San”, which uses a sprinkling of Latin percussion and a lovely wordless vocal as the etched shadow of Garrett’s melody on alto—a tune that is so lovely that nearly takes your breath away after the broiling intensity of “Pushing the World Away”.

This is a record that, indeed, pushes outward in many directions. It’s unusual, for example, to hear the leader performing on piano, but that’s him, fingers against keys, on his tribute to pianist and producer Donald Brown (who played with Garrett when both were in Art Blakey’s band), “Brother Brown”. And how lovely is it that Garrett has written out an accompaniment for violin, viola, and cello on this track? Very.

Much of the music here, however, has all the more typical Garrett virtues: swing, drive, and fire. “A Side Order of Hijiki” surges in a vintage post-bop vein, with Gonzalez playing like an up-to-date Tyner or Hancock around the edges of the melody and Baylor and his bass partner Corcoron Holt alternating between Latin syncopation and straight-ahead, four-on-the-floor uptempo walking. “Alpha Man” moves fast and slick as well, setting the melody as a tricky rhythmic counterpoint, but keeping the things moving on a very quick pulse played on the ride cymbal. “Rotation”, the closer, is a modern blues that would be a perfect tune on any jazz bandstand you can imagine, meat and potatoes and a heap of joy.

For me, the song I keep coming back to is Garrett’s ingenious arrangement of Burt Bacharach’s “I Say a Little Prayer”, which is reharmonized and spaced out rhythmically to allow Gonzalez to insert several written phrases in the middle. Bacharach tunes always contain lovely turns or twists, and this arrangement is infused with a sense of mystery in every measure. Garrett has written a repeated motif that grounds it all, and then—at the performance’s end—he spins that motif into a connected series of melodic phrases that take the place of a return to the written melody. Wonderful.

On every track here, there is also Garrett’s imagination as an improviser. Of all the things I write about as a jazz critic, none is harder than trying to explain the magic that there is in the choices that some musicians make when they are improvising—inventing a new melody on the spot that is then recorded and turned into something permanent. Although jazz musicians almost always follow a set of restrictive “rules” or confine themselves to a landscape of choices defined by certain stylistic boundaries, it remains that there is something highly personal and idiosyncratic about jazz improvising. And Kenny Garrett improvises with a joy and a soulful ease that is easy to recognize. He sounds like he means it, like his musical discoveries come from his heart.

On Pushing the World Away, Kenny Garrett plays that way on every song. It’s a shout of pleasure.

7
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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