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3 Reviews 3: Garrett’s “Seeds from the Underground” (Mack Avenue), “Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans” (ArtistShare), Harrison’s “Search” (Sunnyside)

May 24, 2012

Oh boy, here’s nearly 10 minutes of album reviewing: all told, even longer than one of those “Fresh Air” reviews! And two of these pieces aren’t bad!


OK, OK, you want the texts? We’re full service here:

Kenny Garrett, Seeds from the Underground

Hi I’m Lloyd Sachs with a two-minute album review. Alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s new album, Seeds from the Underground, is knee deep in tributes. There are songs named after Jackie McLean, Roy Haynes, Keith Jarrett, Garrett’s hometown of Detroit and his high school band director. “Du-Wo-Mo” is a nod to Duke Ellington, Woody Shaw and Thelonious Monk. Garrett’s mentor, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, is cited in the album notes.

John Coltrane isn’t name-checked on the album, but at this point, an explicit salute to him would be superfluous. Garrett has spent most of his career paying tribute to Trane, whose “sheets of sound” have inspired some of his most powerful playing and also some of his most derivative. The good news is that on Seeds from the Underground, the spirit of JC  brings out the best of KG. His solos have their usual clenched intensity but at 51, Garrett has settled into a deeper, more personal sound, without sacrificing any of his superhuman rhythmic drive.

He also has expanded his Traneish spirituality to reflect the devout influence of another unmentioned hero. “Haynes Here” may be named for drummer Roy, but with its stately wordless vocals, this song and others on the album point back to the spirituals recorded for Blue Note in the early ’60s by Donald Byrd. Another Detroiter of note. Garrett and his hot to trot rhythm section – pianist Benito Gonzalez, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Ronald Bruner – depart sacred ground for funky hardbop on tunes including “Boogety Boogety.”

The album has its soft spots, including a cloying ecology tune, “Welcome Earth Song,” on which a vocal chorus repeats the song title a lot. As they usually do, Garrett’s smooth jazz tendencies also surface. But there’s more than enough full-sail excitement here to make up for it. With a review of Kenny Garrett’s Seeds from the Underground, I’m Lloyd Sachs. Follow me on Twitter @sachsville and subscribe to my blog, jazzespress.

Ryan Trusdell Presents “Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans

Hi, I’m Lloyd Sachs with a two-minute album review. If you’re keeping up with your jazz birthdays, you know that the great Gil Evans would have turned 100 on Monday, and what better way to celebrate that than with a gorgeous new recording of Evans rarities?

I’m referring to Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans, released this week on ArtistShare. If you know Evans only from Sketches of Spain and his other collaborations with Miles Davis, you’re in for a major ear-opening. If you already treasure solo Evans works like 1964’s Individualism of Gil Evans, your pot of gold just got bigger.

The album was assembled, arranged and produced by Ryan Truesdell, a protege of Maria Schneider who brings a personal vision to the music. He uncovered arrangements dating back to Evans’ days in Claude Thornhill’s influential early ’40s band – including a version of “The Maids of Cadiz,” later recorded for the classic Miles Ahead. “Smoking My Sad Cigarette,” which boasts an unusual arrangement with piccolo, bassoon, trombones and tenor violin, was intended for a 1957 cult classic by singer Lucy Reed. It’s done to sultry perfection here by Kate McGarry.

There are moments of great simplicity, like the Thornhill tune “Who’ll Buy My Violets?” with its rat tat tat drum sound, and stretches of glorious complexity like an epic medley scored for 24 pieces. The songs in the medley are “Waltz,” an Evans composition written for the theater that ended up on Individualism as “Time of the Barracudas” and “Variation on the Misery,” a stormy interlude taken from figures played behind Phil Woods’ solo on that album’s arrangement of “Spoonful.”

No one wrote with a greater feel for color or made instrumental textures breathe the way Evans did. The terrific soloists here include saxophonists Donnie McCaslin and Steve Wilson, clarinetist Scott Robinson, trumpeter Greg Gisbert and pianist Frank Kimbrough. The exceptional drummer is Lewis Nash. Happy birthday, Gil! With a review of Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans, I’m Lloyd Sachs. Follow me on Twitter @sachsville and subscribe to my blog, jazzespress.

Joel Harrison 7, Search

Hi I’m Lloyd Sachs with a two-minute album review. The way I figure it, any band that covers French composer Olivier Messiaen and the Allman Brothers is one you can’t easily dismiss. When I saw guitarist Joel Harrison’s group play “O Sacrum Convivium” and “Whipping Post” at Martyrs last year, I was duly impressed. Those tunes are included on his adventurous new album, Search, on which a terrific, string-oriented septet combines searing postbop, steamy post fusion, classical minimalism and lyrical jazz.

Harrison’s fellow string players are violinist Christian Howes, cellist Dana Leong and bassist Stephan Crump, a member of Vijay Iyer’s great trio. Donnie McCaslin provides the guts and, typically, much of the glory on tenor saxophone. The witty and prolific Gary Versace, recently in town with Matt Wilson’s Arts & Crafts, shows off the classical side of his talent on piano, and plays organ on the Allmans tune.  And the drummer is the great Clarence Penn.

Harrison is a conceptualist who likes to hang out on the margins of jazz. His albums have included a radical reworking of country and roots tunes with Uri Caine and Norah Jones and a string quartet-plus tribute to Paul Motian. He writes long songs that break down into separate parts, like mini-suites. His sound on guitar is high, heated and unhurried, able to blend in with the surroundings when he wants it to, which is much of the time.

Harrison is not the kind of guitarist to whip “Whipping Post” into a frenzy. He turns the tune inside out, and leaves the pyrotechnics to violinist Howes – until the end, when Harrison lets loose with some mean slide guitar. The album’s 15-minute centerpiece is “A Magnificent Death,” a reflection on the passing of a friend, whose taped comments are presented in performance piece fashion. The Messiaen piece, given a spare acoustic reading with a beautiful McCaslin solo, provides it own commentary on eternal life. With a review of Joel Harrison’s Search, I’m Lloyd Sachs. Follow me on Twitter @sachsville and subscribe to my blog, jazzespress.

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