Kenny Garrett Quintet at Ronnie Scott’s

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Every so often, Garrett finds a new, often young, and dazzling musician to add to his band or to replace a band member (often the drummer), and his quintet line-up on Saturday 22 February at Ronnie’s was no exception (or at least it was a new drummer compared to the last time that I saw Garrett a few years ago). The new young drummer this time was Samuel Laviso, driving the band relentlessly through a fairly typically full-on Garrett set, albeit this time a little curtailed compared to other sets I’ve seen this band deliver at Ronnie’s, but more about that later.

The only elder statesman on view apart from Garrett was ex-Miles percussionist Rudy Bird, who appears to great effect on Garrett’s most recent albums, and in this performance he also seemed to be more a part of the band, although the percussion level was perhaps a touch loud in the mix, compared to the level of the drums. Garrett walked off the stage during the piano solo on one of the early numbers (Sing A Song Of Song, I think), and disappeared for several minutes behind closed doors at the back of the venue, near the bar – maybe this was to talk to the sound engineer, but whatever the purpose, it was maybe the first sign that Garrett wasn’t altogether happy with proceedings off-stage.

Anyway, speaking of piano solos, the last time I saw this band, pianist Vernell Brown seemed mostly limited to stoking the raging fires of the deep grooves for Garrett’s tunes and solos, but this time he was noticeably featured more, using the full range of the piano in terms of pitch and dynamics, together with some smart reharmonisation, and solos, particularly earlier on in the gig, where he seemed to play more out than in, but to great effect. Completing the rhythm section was the rock-solid Corcoran Holt on bass, a regular with Garrett in recent years.

The material tonight drew on Garrett’s Seeds From The Underground album, together with the similarly fairly recent Pushing The World Away, and also the slightly more historic Standard Of Language and much more historic Songbook (my personal favourite), playing the aforementioned Sing A Song Of Song, Boogety Boogety, Chief Blackwater, and Pushing The World Away (with its very effective low-frequency chanting). Then, in what seemed like a slightly unusual move from Garrett, in amongst his own distinctive tunes he treated us to interpretations of a couple of standards – the ballads My Foolish Heart and Body And Soul, and although they were excellent as standalone numbers, they maybe would have sounded more in-keeping and well-placed in the set if the set had been a little longer.

Judging by tonight’s first house, Garrett seems to have moved away from communicating with the audience towards the end of his sets, this time with no call and response singing with the audience or dancing in the aisles. In fact, there was no verbal communication other than to introduce the band members by name – there weren’t even any introductions naming tune titles, which for the hardcore Garrett fan is fine, but probably less-so for the non-hardcore. Returning to the aforementioned point about the curtailed set – well, it seemed about five or 10 minutes shorter than the usual main set at Ronnie’s, the last number finishing prematurely, it seemed, to the still-enthused applause from the audience. The band didn’t return, bringing the first house to a slightly odd ending.

Before all of this, there was a very nice support set led from the drums by Will Cleasby joined by bassist Will Sach and on this occasion by pianist Deschanel Gordon. They played detailed, swinging interpretations of standards, with plenty of space, and great use of silence.

Kenny Garrett Quintet at Ronnie Scott’s, London. 22 February 2020 (first house)