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Kenny Garrett impresses with energetic concert

Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 03:02

  One of the most widely recognized and well-respected saxophone players around right now, Kenny Garrett, has produced numerous albums. He has worked with several key players in the contemporary jazz scene (most famously Miles Davis) and has received numerous awards and accolades (including four Grammy nominations). As a well-established musician who has already done so much to merit his reputation, Garrett doesn’t really have anything left to prove.

Or maybe he has everything to prove. At least he plays as if he does. Garrett’s concert at Cambridge’s Regatta Bar on Jan. 31 was one of the most energetic shows imaginable. Backed by immensely capable musicians, Garrett’s fervor is rare. His presence live is immense and engrossing.

Much of this has to do with his ability to make every single song feel like its own miniature concert, drawing out endings to absurd, trilling lengths. Such was the state of the third song of the night. Slowing down to what appeared to be the end, the song suddenly continued on until its extended outro took on a life of its own with a bowed bass and muted drums joining to make this second half feel like one dreamy, rumbling exhalation. The effect was intoxicating, and as the song continued, becoming increasingly viscous. The audience sank into a drowsy stupor while Garrett — the heart and soul of the piece — played on with such intensity he stopped mid-solo to stand trance-like in front of his microphone, mumbling incoherently. Whether it’s sincere or part of the performance hardly matters. It works, and the rest of the song is played out to the thinnest flicks and splatters Garrett’s saxophone can produce.

The audience sits, entranced, for nearly five seconds after the song is done, straining to tell if there is still some microscopic rumination occurring.

  Garrett’s performance was superb, his tone impeccable. During the beginning of the concert he stuck to his signature style, urgent yet whimsical, capable of making three repeated notes sound as interesting as seven. Most of the songs were awash with percussion (Garrett was backed by a drummer and an auxiliary percussionist), yet the saxophonist always remained completely audible. This is rather impressive during songs like “J. Mac” (2012) and “Boogety Boogety” (2012), which are fast and so loaded with sound they’re stupefying live. To hear Garrett cut through the tumult with such clarity was admirable, but also slightly expected, as he is a musician who errs more towards energy than elegance. The concert was powerful, and Garrett, who is still carving out his own place as a composer, totally confirmed his reputation as one of the premier post-bop musicians of his time.

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