Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Kenny Garrett - Beyond the Wall (Nonesuch, 2006)

Alto saxophonist and composer Kenny Garrett's most recent compact disc was influenced by his travels in the far east. But try as he might, his strongest suit remains fast paced modern hard bop, and that is where the most successful music on this disc lies. Joining Garrett on this disc are quite a crew including Pharoah Sanders, Mulgrew Miller, Brian Blade and Robert Hurst. The music itself is split between the previously mentioned burning hard bop, and more mystical songs informed by Garrett's travels. Of the former, "Calling", "Beyond the Wall" and "NOW" are bravura performances filled with daredevil saxophone acrobatics from Garrett and Sanders pitching in some of his trademark tone to ratchet up the intensity even more. Mulgrew Miller is a very fine pianist, and he sounds eerily like McCoy Tyner with lighning fast runs and full bodied comping. When things slow down and attempt to introduce an eastern feel, the music isn't quite so successful. Wordless vocals are introduced into songs like "Quing Wen" and "Kiss to the Skies" but they really serve no purpose in supporting the music except to add a layer of ornamentality that isn't necessary. It's ironic that Sanders performs on this disc, because much of the eastern influenced music here bears a striking similarity to music he recorded in the 1970's on albums like Heart is a Melody and Rejoice. So while I respect the musicians for taking chances with their music and incorporating eastern motifs into their music, the disc as a whole has an uneven quality that keeps it from taking its place amongst Garrett's finest work.

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