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Beyond the Wall

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Album Review

On his first offering in three years, Kenny Garrett delivers the album that has been promised since his very auspicious debut Introducing Kenny Garrett back in 1984. On Beyond the Wall, the saxophonist and composer has continued his deep exploration of modal jazz. The album is dedicated to McCoy Tyner, the king and progenitor of modal pianists, and it sounds as if Garrett observed that tutelage well, though the music is unmistakably his own. The core band on the set features drummer Brian Blade, bassist Robert Hurst, and Mulgrew Miller on piano. Pharoah Sanders and Bobby Hutcherson appear on all but two of these nine cuts (Sanders appears on these, the pair on five). The beautiful introductory "Calling" that opens the set features Garrett and Sanders playing long, droning, Eastern-mode lines, threatening to explode at each moment as Miller takes a couple of pages of Tyner's book and hovers over both the front line and the rhythm section. On the title cut, Garrett's longstanding love affair with hard bop comes popping in the front door as Miller's solo goes deep into sharp arpeggios, playing in an augmented mode à la Freddie Redd, while never losing his own sense of elegance as the front-line players take him on in the head. Garrett's solo carries within it some of the circular techniques he learned from Trane's records, but keeps its bop angles sharp and tough.

And Sanders? Well, he's Pharoah, baby; what do y'all think he's gonna do? He answers tough and true, going for the one taking his cues from Miller and Hurst and playing up and around them full-force; he proves effortlessly that those few critics who claim he's lost it as an improviser are simply batshit. The interplay between Hutcherson and Miller is particularly tender and poignant on "Qing Wen," with its Eastern/Latin, melodic/rhythmic fusion. The melody and harmony between the two saxophonists is simply gorgeous. Vocalist Nedelka Echols and percussionist Rogerio Boccato help out on this one. It's circular, with the rhythm always at the center, everything points back to it, including the lyric. The sampling of Tibetan monks chanting the "Ornament for Clear Realization" would sound hokey on a lot of records, but the way Miller builds from the Eastern mode of the monks ushers in this cut with the same lineup. Garrett's alto simply rings as Sanders plays under in a more guttural — but no less clear — utterance. The six-strong vocal chorus on "Kiss to the Skies" melds seamlessly with Miller and Hutcherson, as Miller spins his lines out adding another singing voice (the chorus also appears on "Gwoka"). The final track, "May Peace Be Upon Them," is down to the basic quartet playing a mid-tempo ballad with skittering drum work from Blade playing all around the time, but never through it. Once again, modalism is the frame on which the melody is hung, and Hurst is the player who keeps it all focused on the beat returning no matter where Garrett goes in his flight. His playing is actually transcendent here, full of emotion and heart as it climbs around Miller's piano, leaving room for Blade to shift and shimmer on the edges. In the final moments, as Garrett bleats and shouts and chants with his horn, the intense melodic nature of his best improvising bring the blues home to visit from Africa and extends them to the protean, mystical East. This is Garrett's strongest moment in an already enduring career; it's fully realized compositionally, and in terms of its arrangements and its playing, it's virtually flawless without sacrificing emotion or creative intent or aesthetic vision. Simply put, it's his masterpiece.

Customer Reviews

Kenny Garrett, All About Jazz

Beyond the Wall Kenny Garrett | Nonesuch Records (2006) By Troy Collins comments print email license Alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett's first recording for Nonesuch, a concept album inspired by a recent trip to China, finds him in the company of an all-star ensemble. A phenomenally gifted soloist with a singular tone and instantly identifiable phrasing, he has walked a fine line between mainstream jazz and more popular forms in the recent past. In previous situations with producer Marcus Miller, Garrett veered dangerously close to watered down smooth jazz. Beyond The Wall remedies this situation. Incorporating elements of traditional Chinese folk music and modal structures into his animated and funky hard bop compositions, Garrett arrives at a hybrid not far removed from John Coltrane's mid-1960s Eastern meditations. The inclusion of tenor saxophone legend Pharoah Sanders makes the connection to Coltrane's work implicit. Pianist Mulgrew Miller's invocation of McCoy Tyner, with his distinctive comping, further cements the Coltrane vibe. Reuniting Garrett with inventive drummer Brian Blade, this session harkens back to the raw sound of two of his Warner Bros. releases, Triology (1995) and a Coltrane tribute, Pursuance (1996). Bassist Robert Hurst III and the celebrated vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, a guest soloist whose buoyant playing adds vitality and color, round out the ensemble. In the presence of Sanders, Garrett delivers some of the most impassioned statements of his career. Sanders plays mostly straightahead, with only minor hints at his extreme past. Sparring with the master on “Calling,” Garrett matches his reserved intensity note for note. Garrett's ravishing solo on the concluding “May Peace Be Upon Them” is blissfully cathartic. Garrett, playing piano, augments “Tsunami Song” with traditional Chinese instruments such as the ehru and a small string section, adding exotic color and texture. Vocalist Nedelka Echols and a handful of back-up singers intone soulful vocalese on a few tracks, and Garrett overdubs chanting Tibetan Monks on ”Realization (Marching Toward the Light).” While these touches add to the record's overall Eastern feel, the longer, dominant pieces still reside squarely in the hard bop realm, full of energetic group interplay and rousing solos. Beyond The Wall stands tall in Garrett's discography. Removed from the lite funk of Happy People (Warner Bros., 2002), it follows his final Warner release, Standard of Language (2003), in quality and intensity. An equitable blend of Eastern meditation and impressive hard bop swing, this album updates the excursions of New Thing-era explorers in subtle but pleasing ways. Visit Kenny Garrett on the web. Kenny Garrett at All About Jazz. Track listing: Calling; Beyond the Wall; Qing Wen; Realization (Marching Toward the Light); Tsunami Song; Kiss to the Skies; Now; Gwoka; May Peace Be Upon Them. Personnel: Kenny Garrett: alto saxophone (1-4,6-9), piano (5); Pharaoh Sanders: tenor saxophone (1-4,6-8); Mulgrew Miller (1-4,6-9); Robert Hurst, III: bass; Brian Blade: drums; Bobby Hutcherson: vibes (3,4,6,7,8); Ruggerio Boccato: percussion (1,3,4-8); Nedelka Echols: vocals (3,4,6,8); Genea Martin, Kevin Wheatley, Arlene Lewis, Geovanti Steward, Dawn Caveness: vocals (6,8): vocals; Guowei Wang: erhu (5); Jonathan Gandelsman: violin (5); Neil Humphrey: cello (5); Susan Jolles: harp (

Not Garrett's best

Although by far Kenny Garrett's most adventurous album to date, it is not nearly the caliber of his previous works. At times melodies, praticularly Qing Wen, are cliche, and based entirely on pentatonics. Realization is, at best, superfluous, and has no musical relation to the rest of the album. Including Pharoah Sanders on several songs is a questionable musical choice as well. Despite his obvious talents, Sanders style is far from Garretts, and he seems out of his comfort zone. There are, however, several exceptional moments. Garrett's solo on Qing Wen is spectacular, blending his newfound inluences and traditional inspirations flawlessly. Kiss to the Skies also features great playing by all of the members of he group, and Tsunami Song is one of the few truly great compositions seen here. Overall, while the album is solid, there are by far better examples of Kenny Garrett's incredible talent. Songbook and Triology come to ming, as well as Pursuance and Standard of Language.


Kenny Garrett, like other jazz giants from past, can truly combine and melt assetts from different types of music and make them into his own thing. This album is one of his best.


Born: October 9, 1960 in Detroit, MI

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Although saxophonist, bandleader, and composer Kenny Garrett never had the benefit of a college education, that hasn't hurt his career as a jazz musician one bit. Garrett has released a number of critically acclaimed albums for the Warner Bros. label and, prior to the birth of his recording career, earned his master's degree in the jazz clubs in and around his native Detroit. Garrett's father was a carpenter who played tenor saxophone as an avocation. He got his first saxophone as an eight-year-old...
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Beyond the Wall, Kenny Garrett
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  • $9.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music
  • Released: Aug 25, 2006

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