Kenny Garrett’s new album, Seeds From the Underground, opens with a gorgeously lyrical tune called “Boogety Boogety.” Gently prodded by the percussion of Rudy Bird, Garrett weaves a melody with his saxophone that positively exudes warmth. What an inviting way to open Garrett’s first studio release since his 2006 Grammy-nominated Beyond the Wall. It’s nine minutes of musical sunshine.
The 51-year-old Garrett debuted as a leader in 1984 with Introducing Kenny Garrett. The jazz saxophonist had already established himself, having played stints with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Mel Lewis Orchestra in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Garrett would go on to play and record with jazz greats including Miles Davis and Marcus Miller. Many years and many albums later, Garrett is still forging his own musical path. “Don’t look for me to sound like my last record,” Garrett states on his website, “I’m shifting – following what my spirit feels.”
That much is obvious in the scaled-back approach Garrett has taken following the expansive, China-themed Beyond the Wall. In addition to Garrett on alto and soprano saxophones, the album’s core group consists of Benito Gonzalez (piano), Nat Reeves (bass), Ronald Bruner (drums), and the aforementioned Bird (percussion). Shining most brightly is Gonzalez, whose McCoy Tyner-influenced playing perfectly complements Garrett’s often Coltrane-inflected style. But make no mistake, Gonzalez is his own man. He dazzles on the Roy Haynes tribute “Haynes Here,” as well as many other tunes.
The spare ballad “Detroit” is hampered by the ill-advised decision to include the sound of crackling vinyl throughout. It’s a nice piece regardless, but the sound effect is a little unnecessary. “Ballad Jarrett” is another beautiful, slow, meditative piece. Gonzalez is especially thoughtful on this piece, with a tip of the hat to pianist Keith Jarrett. “Welcome Earth Song” is a particularly jubilant tune, lifted by the voices of a six person choir. What is probably Bruner’s most inventive drumming can be found here, with his shifting rhythms propelling the strong ensemble performance.
Kenny Garrett has assembled a strong group for Seeds From the Underground. These 10 original compositions brim with inventive playing and the sure, guiding hand of a masterful musician.