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Kenny Garrett: Sketches Of Pharoah Sanders

Kenny Garrett's "Welcome Earth Song" conjures the spirit of Pharoah Sanders — and a soul-stirring church service.
Courtesy of the artist
Kenny Garrett's "Welcome Earth Song" conjures the spirit of Pharoah Sanders — and a soul-stirring church service.

On Kenny Garrett's enthralling new album, Seeds From the Underground, the iconic alto saxophonist pays tribute to some of his significant lodestars. While he doesn't name any specific musician as the touchstone for "Welcome Earth Song," the track unquestionably recalls Pharoah Sanders' majestic Impulse! Records sound.

It makes sense that Sanders appeared on Garrett's two previous discs, 2006's Beyond the Wall and 2008's Sketches of MD, and toured with Garrett. The two saxophonists already share a fondness for splintered multiphonics, lyrical wailing and knotty improvisation drawn from sing-songy melodies. But in "Welcome Earth Song," Garrett incorporates some of Sanders' compositional touches, as well, notably the sweeping Afrocentric vocal choruses, entrancing modal grooves and propulsive percussion.

Garrett, of course, isn't the first to draw upon Sanders classics such as "The Creator Has a Master Plan" and "Thembi." What propels "Welcome Earth Song" above the heap of derivative clones is the vivacity of the ensemble's playing — particularly Benito Gonzalez's gospel-inflected piano solo — and the driving polyrhythms, concocted by drummer Ronald Bruner and percussionist Rudy Bird. When Garrett's rapt solo takes hold, "Welcome Earth Song" evokes more than just a Sanders standard; it also conjures the best of a regular soul-stirring church service, as reinvigorating as it is reliable.

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John Murph writes about music and culture and works as a web producer for BETJazz.com. He also contributes regularly to The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, Down Beat, and JazzWise magazines.