Saturday, January 31, 2015


Kenny Garrett
If you caught the Kenny Garrett set Friday night at Orchestra Hall, the third of the Paradise Jazz Series, and expected him to swing through music from his past albums such as “Songbook,” “Simply Said,” and “Pursuance: Music of John Coltrane,” chances are you were a bit disappointed when he didn’t.

There’s plenty of swinging that happened on the stage anyway but Garrett stuck to his most recent music. Garrett didn’t present any of the old stuff that put him on the map as a bandleader many moons ago. That doesn’t suggest in any way Garrett put on a bad concert. Garrett still plays the alto like a frustrated tenor sax player.

Garrett remains the reigning king of the alto sax. He has for many years although there’s some stiff competition out there with the likes of Rudresh Mahanthappa and Miguel Zenon, It was the band’s first gig of the New Year. There weren’t any visible signs of rust. That’s a sign of the level of musicianship in this band.

Some of the music Garrett’s band played had chanting, which was a disruption at times. You couldn’t tell who was doing the chanting. Garrett’s sweetness manifested when he gave the up-tempo burners a rest and played a ballad at grown folk’s tempo. 

Garrett was unsurprisingly brilliant mostly, and he has an outstanding band in drummer McClenty Hunter, bassist Corcoran Holt, percussionist Ruby Bird and pianist Vernell Brown.

Brown was the standout throughout hitting big with a series of highly charged solos. It seemed as if his fingers had knocked back a case of energy drinks before the set began. 

Garrett fancies percussive and showy pianists in his band. Over the years, Garrett has had some fine ones in Carlos McKinney and Benito Gonzalez. Brown has been with Garrett the longest. Brown sounded like McCoy Tyner at the height of Tyner’s power.

Brown didn’t carry the show though. Holt and Hunter pitched in, too. Hunter participated in the concert’s best spot with the meaty exchange with Garrett on the fourth number, which came off as a battle of wills. 

Holt was absolutely brilliant. He played a lively bass solo that had the hairs on the necks of the audience doing the Dougie.

Bird, on the other hand, seemed out of sorts. Throughout the set, he was in his own world. He’s a decent enough percussionist but he didn’t put forth anything memorable. His dancing at the end of the set was silly and unnecessary.

Garrett showed he can be a ham also doing everything in his power to get the audience to cheer louder when he played his signature set closer “Happy People”. It was cheesy and overkill because Garrett had the crowd eating out of his hands all night long.
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