Pushing the World Away is post bop saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s follow-up to his very successful 2012 album Seeds From the Underground. If the title refers to the need for the artist to “push away” the everyday concerns and distractions of the world in order to create meaningful work, the dozen tunes that make up the album, 11 of them original compositions, provide ample evidence of his success. Garrett has a clear aesthetic vision, and his music rarely strays from that vision.
If, on the other hand, the title suggests the need for the artist to “push away” the variety of outside voices that influence his work, think again. As in his last album, Pushing the World Away is filled with figurative love letters to his musical ancestors. Garrett denies that he was writing tributes. “I was just writing,” he says. They may not be written with the same kind of intention as those in the earlier album, but the results are much the same.
Just a look at some of the allusive song titles suggests at the least a nodding salute, if not a tribute. The second piece on the album is “Hey, Chick,” a tune with a Spanish/Moroccan vibe that Garrett says is something he could imagine Chick Corea playing. “Chucho’s Mambo” is his idea of what working with Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes would be like. Then there’s “J’Ouvert,” which he calls in parentheses “Homage to Sonny Rollins,” and “Brother Brown,” a salute to the album’s co-producer, Donald Brown. At Brown’s suggestion, Garrett takes over on piano for this number.
Less obvious perhaps is the album’s opener, “A Side Order of Hijiki.” The reference to Japenese seaweed refers neither to Japan nor its cuisine, but to a descriptive characterization of his playing by pianist Mulgrew Miller. Other songs like “Lincoln Center,” Alpha Man,” and “Homma San” were written and included to play to the strengths of current piano collaborators Vernell Brown and Benito Gonzalez.
The title song, which runs a little over nine minutes, is intended as a simple exploration of the album’s themes. Garrett plays soprano sax on this track and he combines with Vernell Brown for some vocal chanting. Brown’s Buddhist chant, his own Christian, both suggesting the putting away of worldly concerns. The composition is perhaps the most mystically suggestive on the album.
“I Say a Little Prayer” is the one outlier on the disk. The Bacharach/David song, most closely identified with Dionne Warwick, was a tune Garrett played for sound check on a recent European tour. The reaction of those on hand to hear it made its inclusion on the album a no-brainer. Indeed, he does a beautiful job developing the tune’s themes. It is both a simple and evocative treatment.
Kenny Garrett is clearly one of the premier saxophone players working today. Pushing the World Away is Garrett at his best.