Kenny Garrett ‘Sounds from the Ancestors’ 2LP/CD (Mack Avenue) 4/5

Kenny Garrett is directly connected to jazz lineage having played with Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw but since first recording as a bandleader in 1984, he has been taking his own path. And that path has not been one of sticking to one approach.

The title of course gives the clue, this is a recording that draws on the roots of African-American music without restricting itself to a solely or purist jazz (whatever that is) feel. So, here you will find a range of emotions and sounds which goes beyond what perhaps most of us expect in one set.

The recording starts with the first version of ‘It’s Time to Come Home’ (it closes with a second version) which has a funky piano bass and percussion repeating pattern under Garrett’s sinuous top line plus some wordless vocal interventions. As it develops the underpinning remains but Garrett moves into an almost mouth music-like percussive style. Towards the end, Garrett continues but the piano and bass fade leaving percussion and vocals in Spanish.

‘Hargrove’, dedicated of course to the US trumpeter who died too young quite recently, has a hooky boppish head which moves towards a repeating figure which sounds a bit like Compared to What the Gene McDaniels (made famous by Les McCann and Eddie Harris) tune over which brief solos come from Garrett and guest trumpeter Maurice Brown.

Funk, Gospel and Soul infuse the soft warmth of ‘When Days Were Different’ with some understated vocalising. Drummer Ronald Bruner is busy on this otherwise rolling number. Garrett’s contribution is a pleasingly bluesy blow.

‘For Art’s Sake’ starts with an insistent drum figure and equally insistent electric keys one before Garrett takes the lead. Chords on piano from Vernell Brown take us into a more of a contemporary jazz solo from the pianist but with a bluesy feel. Garrett comes back in with a solo of his own taking the feel further out into almost free territory before comping with Maurice Brown back on the electric piano which in part gives a Milesian early electric feel. Bruner comes to the fore further emphasising his busy style with repeating patterns round the kit before the track fades.

‘What Was That?’ has Bruner again busy but rather higher and lighter on this quick-paced number which is much more in the post-bop tradition with Brown prominent under Garrett’s inventive and complex soloing. There’s a piano solo with quick figures in the right band and probing chords in the left.

The personnel are noted as: “The core ensemble for Sounds from the Ancestors consists of musicians that Garrett has recorded and toured with in recent past – pianist Vernell Brown, Jr., bassist Corcoran Holt, drummer Ronald Bruner and percussionist Rudy Bird. The album also features guest appearances from drummer Lenny White, pianist and organist Johnny Mercier, trumpeter Maurice Brown, conguero Pedrito Martinez, batá percussionist Dreiser Durruthy and singers Dwight Trible, Jean Baylor, Linny Smith, Chris Ashley Anthony and Sheherazade Holman. And on a couple of cuts, Garrett extends his instrumental palette by playing piano and singing.”

Back to the music and ‘Soldiers of the Fields/Soldats des Champs’ takes it to a harder, tougher and freer territory. After the theme, Garrett builds his solo with Bruner again setting a fearsome set of figures in a quick almost military-style before a percussive piano solo. There are some repeating measures before Garrett launches again going further and freer and more intensive using the full range of the sax including wailing high register. A further piano solo picks up the feel before a theme repeat and staccato ending.

The title track starts in a completely different vein with a lyrical piano opening – played by Garrett himself. After this, the pace quickens with an Afro-Cuban feel. Garrett back is on sax in an impassioned style with vocal cries and shouts before an abrupt change back to Garrett on solo piano to finish.

The final track is an original rendering of ‘It’s Time to Come Home’ which has the same loping feel of the opening version but sparer this time with no vocals. Garret solos beautifully over the rhythm section – a suitably reflective round-up for an impressive set.

Garrett is one of those artists making sure that we don’t lose the connection with where jazz and other music comes from and this recording is a very worthy addition to that canon. The sleeve drawing of Garrett is cool too!

Brian Homer

Read aslso:
Kenny Garrett ‘Do Your Dance!’ CD (Mack Avenue) 4/5