Hackneyed cliché it may be, but Kenny Garrett really has done it all. Work with names such as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock provides a mere glimpse of his glittering CV, augmented by recording dates for labels including Atlantic, Warner and Nonesuch.
At Ronnie’s he was joined by Lennie Stalworth on bass, Jeff Motley on organ and impressive young drummer Justin Brown. The opening number was reminiscent of Davis’s late fusion group, in which Garrett prominently featured, and he opted to play his alto through a variety of electronic effects. Its fluid, shimmering tone was cheapened to the level of poor quality synth sax and struggled for penetration above the bustling band.
This alarming trait continued, with Garrett often abandoning his horn to join Motley on a second keyboard. Not a wise move. Indeed, it was Brown on drums who threw up the most surprises; his energetic, imaginative cross-rhythmic ideas saved many tunes from turning into drearily predictable elevator music.
Garrett’s apparent preference for cheesy smooth jazz in the vein of near-namesake jazz pariah Kenny G will leave purists foaming at the mouth. A final grandstand version of ‘Happy People’ served as the perfect example: with its gospelesque organ vamps and cringingly catchy sing-along sax melody, accompanied by animated calls from Garrett to bring the crowd to its feet for repeated choruses, it represented an undeniable trend of “selling out” to popular appeal.
The performance’s jazz merit was questionable – especially in relation to Garrett’s established post-bop credentials. However, if judged only against itself, it cannot fail to satisfy. The skull-capped saxophonist’s open defiance of “Quiet Please” jazz club decorum demands respect. How often does a full house at Ronnie Scott’s rise as one to sing, dance and applaud? Traditionalists will always take issue, but lovers of enjoyable good-time music have a powerful counterargument.
Published at jazzwise.com, 9/7/08.