More Than a Tribute

Sketches of MD: Live at the Iridium (Mack Avenue)
Kenny Garrett

By Martin Kasdan Jr.

The homepage of the Jazz Factory, www.jazzfactory.us, contains a list of all the wonderful artists who played there during the club's five-year run. There is only one picture, however, and that is of alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, who played there on August 30, 2007. Garrett has now released his first official live recording as a leader, Sketches of MD: Live at the Iridium , from the famed New York City jazz club.

Neither the CD booklet nor the press release state when this album was recorded, but presumably it was some time in the past year. It features the same band which performed here, pianist Benito Gonzales, drummer Jamire Williams, and longtime associate Nat Reeves on bass, with the addition of guest tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. The five compositions are all Garrett originals, and range from some nine to almost 15 minutes apiece, allowing plenty of time for stretching out.

The "MD," of course, refers to former employer Miles Davis. However, this is no "Tribute to Miles" album in the usual sense of interpreting works by or associated with him. The songs run the gamut from the modal explorations of the opening "The Ring" to the fun and funky closer, "Happy People.""Intro to Africa" is soulful and bluesy, while the title track, "Sketches of MD," is deep funk. "Wayne's Thang" actually reminds me more of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters than Wayne Shorter's work as either a solo artist or member of Weather Report.

The playing is uniformly excellent. Sanders plays evocatively, although he does seem to take a backseat to Garrett for most of the CD. Gonzalez switches from acoustic piano to keyboards as necessary for the mood of each piece. Williams and Reeves are far more than "just a rhythm section," as they lay down rhythmic patterns and variations with excellent dynamics.

Garrett has clearly been influenced by many, including John Coltrane and Davis, and his playing and writing reflect both of these masters. Just as he did that summer night at the Jazz Factory, Garrett displays on this live album his ability to play in a variety of styles without losing his integrity.

More information on the artist is available at www.kennygarrett.com, and the label's site is www.mackavenue.com.