Time for another review, this one picked from the last days of Jazz Review, the magazine established by the late Richard Cook (of Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD fame). In many ways a difficult piece to write because I wanted to be unequivocally positive about one of the most distinctive saxophonists of his generation. The disc was frankly a bit of a let down though, and honesty is always the best policy. If something doesn't work (even on its own pretty limited terms) then potential buyers need to know. One of the great things about digital music consumption via outlets such as iTunes is that you're no longer obliged to buy albums in their entirety, if some of the tracks are weak enough to receive a critical health warning.
Not a lot of live jazz to get excited about locally at the moment, despite two festivals within a 10 mile radius over the next week or so. Good to catch Jerry Douglas last Wednesday (playing with Elvis Costello), and Douglas could hold his own in any musical company, as he's proven more than once in collaborations with Bill Frisell. A more satisfying gig however was the one by Suzanne Vega, whose stripped down band (also with a guitarist named J/Gerry - Gerry Leonard) were simply perfect. Vega had a Blue Note contract for a short time at the turn of the noughties, and there's a depth to her writing and sincerity in her delivery that speaks of gritty authenticity. Not somebody I'd ever previously given much time or thought to, I approached the gig with an open mind and was rewarded. Bonus marks to Louise for suggesting this gig!
The Tommy Smith interview is wrapped up now and should be published soon, and with no CDs in the house to review at the moment I can simply listen for pleasure. Unless, of course, I get distracted by the Tour de France...
Sketches of MD: Live At The Iridium
MACK AVENUE (MAC 1042)
The Ring; Intro to Africa; Sketches of MD; Wayne’s Thang; Happy People
Kenny Garrett (as/bcl/keys); Pharaoh Sanders (ts/voc); Benito Gonzalez (p/keys); Nat Reeves (b); Jamire Williams (d). No recording date.
Garrett’s collaboration with Pharoah Sanders, which began so promisingly on last year’s Beyond The Wall (Nonesuch), continues on this live set from New York’s Iridium club. Although clearly pitched as a homage to Miles, both ‘The Ring’ and ‘Intro to Africa’ offer the unmistakeably brooding and modal feel of the classic Coltrane Quartet of the mid ‘60s. Both saxophonists play with a searing intensity, Garrett actually out screaming Sanders on the opener. Harmonic parameters always remain clear though, Gonzalez’ forceful chordal vamps gnawingly insistent as the horns sail majestically overhead. For almost 25 minutes Garrett seems to be on top of his game, but it all starts to fragment spectacularly after the title-track. Spacey Fender Rhodes and Maupin-esque bass clarinet colourings first herald an unexpected but not entirely unpleasant change of course.
What follows is less endearing, and the musical dichotomy couldn’t be starker. Over 20 minutes of puerile locked-groove funk, wispy synth-washes, tastelessly deployed wah-wah saxophone and nauseating happy-clappy audience participation reveals an artist in the throes of creative schizophrenia. Garrett was of course present throughout most of Miles’ latter years as a recording artist, and the pursuit of pop aesthetics was never far down their gold laméd agendas. I’m generally sympathetic to the saxophonist, but the effects of this musical mix and match are not unlike jumping into cold water after a roasting steam bath. Although I’d have no hesitation in recommending at least half of this disc, it falls some way short as a package. One to hunt out online and download in part, if you’ve already made the leap to virtual media consumption.