Review: Kenny Garrett Quintet

Dave Jones finds Kenny Garrett and his quintet on top form at Ronnie Scott's, driven from the drums by the rhythmically complex McClenty Hunter

Every few years, in almost Art Blakey-like fashion, Garrett seems to find a new crop of relatively young and often dazzling young musicians to carry the mantle, and his quintet line-up on Friday 11 October at Ronnie’s was for the most part no exception. The only elder statesman on view apart from Garrett was ex-Miles percussionist Rudy Bird, who appears to good effect on Garrett’s most recent albums, but the heart of the band on this occasion was drummer McClenty Hunter, who also appears on Garrett’s most recent offering Pushing The World Away, where he shares the drum stool with Marcus Baylor and Mark Whitfield Jr., which unfortunately (with no offence intended towards the two other fine drummers) limits him to appearing on only four of the 12 tracks.

Vernell Brown shares the piano bench on the same album (also limited to appearing on four tracks) with the equally talented but perhaps more McCoyish Benito Gonzalez, Brown having previously had the bench to himself on Garrett’s excellent Standard of Language from 2003.

However, at Ronnie’s, after getting a chance to stretch out on the opener Boogety, Boogety and J.Mac from Garrett’s Seeds From The Underground (2012), Brown seemed limited to stoking the raging fires for the remainder of the gig alongside the very well-suited rhythm pairing of Hunter and bassist Corcoran Holt, for Garrett’s slow-burning, ominous, wailing solos, and explosive exchanges with Hunter.

Brown not only seemed squeezed out of the soloing duties for most of the gig, but also to some extent squeezed out of breathing space in the relentless grooves by the addition of Bird’s percussion, which despite the sizeable percussion rig, was in effect more sight than sound, and apart from the opening and closing numbers was for the most part superfluous, particularly with a drummer as strong as Hunter dictating proceedings with his powerful and rhythmically complex stylings, appearing part Elvin Jones, part Omar Hakim, which in itself is a formidably rhythmic cocktail.
Most of the material came from Seeds From The Underground (which seems odd as Pushing The World Away has only just been released), with the addition of the title track from Happy People (2002) closing the gig in the now traditional Garrett-style call and response with the audience. Garrett used his preacher’s hand to summon the rapturous congregation and they responded with singing, and dancing in the aisles. Garrett instigated more false endings than you could shake a stick at before delivering the last note and word of his sermon to thunderous applause.

Garrett is an eminent alto and soprano player, but more than that, he has become a truly great performer, and by the later stages of the gig, if not before, he had the audience in the palm of his hand.

Photo by Keith Major

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