Artist: Kenny Garrett
Album: Do Your Dance!
Label: Mack Avenue Records
Release Date: 07/08/2016
Detroit-born Kenny Garrett is a traditional jazz musician who likes to stretch the envelope. He understands that most audiences want to groove, want to dance and don’t mind hearing a smattering of R&B or even rap in the music. Remarkably, Garrett pulls this off while using just acoustic instruments. His ensembles produce plenty of energy and swagger too. Garrett, of course, is regarded as today’s leading alto saxophonist, having won Downbeat’s Reader’s Poll for Alto Saxophonist nine times. He is also a five time Grammy nominee and also a Grammy Award winner for his contribution to the Five Peace Band with Chick Corea and John McLaughlin. This is his fourth release for Mack Avenue Records.
Garrett plays globally and some songs reflect those influences such as “Bossa,” “Calypso Chant” and “Persian Steps.” Garrett talks about his inspiration for the album, “I look out and see people waiting for the songs that they can party to and express themselves… On the title track we combine the spirit of a ’70s style beach get down with just a touch of hip-hop- ever in search of the link between the two. I had it playing while I was talking to my daughter on Facetime. When it got to the end with that new vibe, she smiled and I thought, ‘Uh huh-gotcha!’”
The explosive opening track,” Philly,” was inspired by an outdoor gig near Temple University. “Backyard Groove” has a similar vibe and is a bit more structured. “Wheatgrass Shot (Straight to the Head)” has an interesting origin. Garrett talks about taking the liquid “straight to the head” and how the bitterness sent his body into convulsions (another kind of dance). Later, while messing around on the piano, he recognized this minor 2nd interval as a metaphor for the wheatgrass experience. Feeling that the tune needed a rap, he reached out to several sources, eventually finding his producer, Donald Brown’s, son, Mista Enz. Other tracks merit a brief description too. “Persian Steps” was built initially with Garrett on piano and Ronald Bruner Jr. on drums, with Garrett later layering in a flute, chant and shruti box – an Indian accordion he discovered in Germany. “Waltz (3 Sisters)” has Garrett on soprano sax in a tune dedicated to his three sisters. The closer, “Chasing the Wind” is hard bop in triple time.
Apart from drummer Bruner Jr., there’s strong continuity in the players. The other drummer, McClenty Hunter, first played with Garrrett on Kenny’s last album, Pushing The World Away. Also returning from that album is bassist Corcoran Holt. Percussionist Rudy Bird goes back to a 1983 tour of Sophisticated Ladies. The rhythmic, unpredictable pianist, Vernell Brown, Jr., has played with Garrett since 2002. Finally, long-time co- producer Donald Brown has been with Garrett for 25 years in the producer role and even longer as a bandmate, going back to Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.
This is a joyous, adventurous album that does a great job of bridging the traditional and contemporary. Garrett puts it this way: “Records and concerts are about me taking people on the ride I want to take them on. It can be pretty ballads, some intensity, and then we can party!” Go on, get up and dance.