Mack Avenue MAC210LP

Kenny Garrett (alto & soprano saxophones, vocals); Svoy (programming, vocals, piano)

Mind bending, uncompromising, unstintingly of today, visionary. All of these terms could be applied to this latest release by Kenny Garrett. In terms of the question who killed AI? Well, no one yet and certainly not Garrett and Svoy in a music that is paradoxically rigid, yet flexible and also densely packed but still giving the impression of space.

Quite how the AI comes into all this is not clearly explained as Garrett explains that some of the music is composed while other pieces came into being ‘in the studio’ where ideas were passed around and investigated to form a completed piece.

What is overwhelmingly apparent is the overall musicality in a sound world in which it is all too easy to let the technology take over. There is a feeling that this was never meant to be the case and is more an exploration in how the acoustic instruments of saxophones and human voice can be integrated within, and in the case of the voice, be translated into something altogether different.

This concept is nothing new, and the skill and interest in how the two differing approaches can work together. This avenue was explored in great detail by Miles Davis, with who of course Garrett spent time with in his formative years, and the saxophonist had his former boss in mind on the opening two numbers. ‘Ascendence’ opens with a heavy backbeat and synthesized backdrop and Kenny’s voice imitating Miles’s raspy voice in the manner that he would lean over and mysteriously count saying “Kenny, 10teen, 11teen, 12teen, 13teen” at which point Garrett launches into a ferocious solo complete with his blues drenched alto sound that Davis so admired.

‘Mile Runs AI Down’ is of course a nod the jam on the Bitches Brew album titled ‘Miles Runs the Voodoo’ down and does recall a freewheeling jam where from the electronic opening and emerging theme Garett picks up the melody on soprano saxophone and over broiling percussion and electronic sounds solos over the sound created by Svoy.

Garrett views the whole as a suite as opposed to seven individual tunes, and the set does have a pleasing continuity and variety across the album. After the intensity of the first two tracks, ‘Transcendence’ is offered as a ballad that seems to float effortlessly with the electronics conjuring a melody that along with soprano saxophone breathes life and expression into what is a beautiful melody.

This releasing of tension is used again in another ballad in the standard ‘my Funny Valentine’, and an approach that has the soprano saxophone intoning the melody over a repeating synthesizer figure. By not placing the saxophone at the front of the mix it has the effect of listening to a conversation drifting in from another room, and therefore creates at different tension and release.

If the use of soprano saxophone is prevalent to cut through the electronic sound, Garrett picks up his alto again on ‘Convergence’ and once again the blues is back in the room. In a remarkably lucid and fluid solo over the static background envisaged by Svoy, the altoist is to find plenty to say.

It should come as no surpirse that Garrett would make a record like this, and his choice of accomplice for the endeavour is a sound choice. Svoy, aka Misha Tarasov, has collaborated with Garrett on his Seeds From the Underground album providing vocals on ‘Welcome Earth Song’ and then on the follow up recording Pushing the World Away writing the string arrangement for ‘Brother Brown’.

This familiarity with the saxophonist’s playing has ensured that the sonic palette is tightly controlled, and it is only on ‘Divergence Tu-Dah’ that the programming is given centre stage, and Svoy’s ingenious touch in modifying through the computer the sound of Garrett’s soprano.

A collaborative effort that has yielded much from what Kenny Garrett described as Svoy showing up with a computer and then setting up a mic. If the saxophone solos were single takes, the electronic processing is sympathetically layered to bring out the best of both worlds.