Last night, one of my favorite living alto players, Kenny Garrett (or, as I sometimes call him, "the only Kenny with the last initial of G who should be allowed to play saxophone"), performed with the University of Texas Jazz Orchestra as part of the Longhorn Jazz Festival, and noted Garrett-philes Halfling and myself were there. It was actually the first time Garrett had ever played his music (which is normally played by a quartet of himself, piano, bass and drums) with a big band, and several special arrangements were done for the concert.
I was particularly looking forward to this last leg of the spring Cool Concert Tour, since I hadn't seen Garrett in about eight years, and it was Halfling's first time. When I saw him most recently, at the Wichita Jazz Festival, he had the quartet with him, and they played a lot of selections from the Songbook CD, which was his newest one at the time. Although Garrett had been releasing recordings as a leader since 1984, this CD seemed to bring him into his own, because it not only showcased his amazing playing but also his compositions as well (his release prior to this one was Pursuance, a collection of John Coltrane standards). I was quite pleased to see in the program that three of the six tunes listed were from Songbook, because it's one of my favorite newer jazz recordings, bar none.
Garrett has a unique sound that's often copied by college students nowadays (including the lead alto from the UT band, who got to do kind of a "Mini-Kenny meets the real thing" alto battle on one of the tunes), and he also has a really interesting harmonic sense that sends his solos on adventurous, yet very tasteful, excursions "outside" on many occasions. And now, since Songbook, he's added composing to his bag of tricks. The guy's the whole package, and then some.
After an opening set by UT alone and a brief intermission, Garrett came onstage in his trademark African-style hat. Without further adieu, they launched into "Two Down and One Across," the opening track from Songbook. After a series of held chords, he was off and running. The arrangements were actually done rather smartly; they allowed Garrett to carry the head of the tune and then got out of the way for him to take extended solos. A few of the UT players would take a turn here and there, but it was basically Kenny's night to shine, as it should be. The night continued with a reworked "Giant Steps" from Pursuance; a tune I wasn't familiar with entitled "Tacit Dance" (which I would later discover came from the Black Hope CD); the Latin-flavored "Ms. Baja" from Songbook; "November 15" from the same album; and, to close the evening, "XYZ" from his latest CD, a 2003 effort entitled Standard of Language.
As I said, Kenny's the real deal, and he showed it all night long, playing amazing lines (after some of which Halfling and I would just turn to each other and shake our heads in awed disbelief) with a wonderful sound (including a rare command of the alto's lowest register). We all wanted an encore, but, as he noted at the end, that was all the music that had been arranged for him, so there wasn't much that could be done (though Halfling and I were thinking "just fire up the rhythm section and let him blow!"). This night was an appetizer at best; here's hoping the entire quartet comes through town sometime soon, but the Austin gig was definitely worth the drive.
Gas update: Speaking of driving, I paid $2.05 a gallon for regular unleaded at an Exxon in Round Rock. The lowest I've seen around here all weekend was $2.11 at various locations, mostly in Plano.