KENNY GARRETT QUARTET
w/ STANLEY JORDAN
Charmes R. Wood Theater
Glens Falls, NY
November 25, 2006
by J Hunter
Those who didn't see it didn't believe it happened. Some people who did see it still didn't believe it happened.
The Kenny Garrett Quartet was in the middle of their opening number, the title track from Garrett's new disc Beyond the Wall (Nonesuch). Garrett - who had already referenced Transcendence and Skip to My Lou - kept taking his alto sax higher and harder, drenching the crowd with primal, passionate fusillades that deeply rooted in the heart of Garrett's hero, John Coltrane.
The next thing we knew, there was a wrenching sound, and the bridge of Ned Reeves' double bass was clattering on the floor, leaving Reeves nonplussed and the bass' strings broken and hanging. The amazement that was already gripping the crowd got an additional patina of shock. Strings break, sure; strings break all the time. But the bridge of a bass, just snapping off in mid-concert? Everyone I spoke to after the show agreed: That just doesn't happen. My thought at the time was the bass just couldn't stand the strain of the tune.
There was nothing for it; Reeves dragged the broken instrument backstage, shaking his head. Garrett didn't even break stride, and neither did keyboardist Alan Palmer and drummer Jonathan Blake. Without a second thought, they became a bass-less trio that would have left Lester Young gasping. They wrapped up Beyond and went seamlessly into another Beyond the Wall tune, The Calling. Reeves came back about fifteen minutes later (Garrett was still playing The Calling), the bridge repaired. He provided quality foundations the rest of the show, though he did seem to take it somewhat easier.
Garrett's music is prayerful - not hushed, whispering prayer (though some of the Japanese and Korean folk songs in his Asian Medley duet with Palmer are extremely meditative), but wailing, speaking-in-tongues, direct-line-to-the real-deal prayer, and it either sends you running or makes you yearn for that kind of spirit. There is power in every note, whether it's the barely-audible last breath of The Calling or the squawking opening notes of Coltrane's Giant Steps. He rarely plays to the audience, usually aiming his attack at his sidemen, or somewhere off stage right. No matter; the audience is drawn in easily and effortlessly, because his performance is so evocative, so compelling.
Palmer looks like a young Horace Silver, but his playing style is pure McCoy Tyner, which dovetails perfectly with Garrett's style. The back of his jacket was drenched by concert's end, and between his manic comping and heavyweight solos, he earned every pound he lost. Blake, wild-haired in a white pin-collared shirt, was at his best when Reeves held down the bottom. Not that Blake's performance suffered without the bass player, but his work in space was a wonder to behold.
I hadn't seen Stanley Jordan play in almost twenty years. Except for a few age lines here and there, he still looks the same, and still amazes me in a way only one guitarist (Charlie Hunter) has done since Jordan and I first crossed paths. His solo-electric interpretations of everything from Easy To Be Hard to Mozart's Piano Concerto #21 still bring the same response, from me and others: How the **** does he DO that?!
But Jordan upped the ante in mid-set when he sat down at the piano and began to play an improvisation reminiscent of Keith Jarrett, only without the annoying humming. Jordan was still wearing his guitar, which made sense when he started trading fours with himself, and then went into a great rendition of Song for My Father
playing both instruments at the same time! In case we thought it was a fluke, he extended the self-duet to a sweet cover of Blue Monk.
This show delivered the brilliance it promised when emcee Paul Pines first talked about it at Lake George Jazz Weekend. While both Pines and Lake George Arts Project director John Strong stressed that the funding for this show was a one-shot deal, the signage on either side of the stage (Jazz at the Wood) feels like a new tradition that could be nothing but a plus for Glens Falls' downtown revitalization project.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.