“Please welcome one of the greatest saxophonists of all time!” Kenny Garrett was heralded with an epithet usually reserved for the jazz-giants with whom he has played, the kind of figures for whom only a single name is required – Miles, Dizzy, Art… Alto sax expert Garrett pays his dues to some of those past masters, drawing the majority of this Friday evening late-set from 2012’s Seeds from the Underground, a suite of compositions dedicated to his musical influences.
Opener ‘Boogety Boogety’ provides a muscular latin groove that allows Garrett’s quintet to demonstrate all the frightening fluidity of sidemen who have honed their craft on the famously competitive New York jazz scene. A swift segue into a Charlie Parker-paced hard-bop workout sees Garrett deliver a break-neck cadenza with the power and precision of a prizefighter. Garrett’s talent for melody is partially obscured by the pyrotechnics in the earlier numbers, but it is not long before the clouds clear.
On ‘Haynes Here’ – a tribute to be-bop beat-man Roy Haynes, we are reminded of Garrett’s knack for reinvention rather than recreation. The change of emphasis is marked by exuberant percussionist Rudy Bird unexpectedly strapping on a head-set mic and revealing an arresting falsetto. Bird traces Garrett’s melodies with plaintive vocalisations, movingly so on ‘Detroit’, a track dedicated to Garrett’s hometown fallen on hard times.
The group soon shift from sensitivity to showmanship, seeing the crowd off with an extended jam on ‘Happy People’, a fan-favourite from the Asian influenced 2002 album of the same name. It is a rare jazz musician who can boast a melody that the audience know well enough to sing back to him, and Garrett justifiably revels in it. “Where my happy people at?” he raps before laying down a beat-box groove that inspires Rudy Bird to abandon his congas to dance across the stage. Garrett’s question is answered emphatically by an audience who rise to their feet in rapture, dusty debates about ‘the greatest’ long forgotten when there is this much fun to be had.
Kenny Garrett is due to release a new album Do Your Dance later this year.