I spend quite a bit of time on YouTube these days. In fact it’s become my default way of accessing music when I’m in the office. I feel a bit guilty about this actually, because I still love the tactility of physical formats, even CDs, for all the negative things people say about them. But, say what you will, YouTube is brilliant for finding new things. Most of the time I don’t look for albums but for musicians, and sometimes I’ll just spend quite a while watching as much of one musician as I can find. Not anyone of course, but someone I’m ‘checking out’.
Recently, I happened upon some old footage of Kenny Garrett playing with Miles Davis. I was actually revising a book chapter I was writing and had to check the YouTube link was still live. I spent quite a bit of time in the late 80s listening to Davis, and especially the album Amandla, one of those slick Marcus Miller productions. Garrett is on it, and actually, on listening to it back, I think he sticks out a mile, simply because even if the production can tend to be very generic 80s gloss, he just sounds simultaneously perfectly idiomatic, but also completely original. That’s probably a paradox.
Going back to it now, part of what I love about listening to him play with Davis is how well he gets around those repetitive vamps and simple chords. 80s era Davis can tend to be, well, a bit limited harmonically, if that’s your thing. Davis can also tend to sound a little bit ‘sing song’ like, to me anyway. (That’s probably ridiculously unfair. Perhaps it’s just my memory of it). That’s not to deny his brilliance, but just to say that he was happy to almost be almost entirely diatonic in what he played. Garrett on the other hand…..
This clip, which is the one I happened on, is from the concert in Paris, which was a celebration of Davis’s life. Garrett’s solo on ‘Human Nature’ is a thing to behold. He does the whole familiar rocking out routine by the end, but for the most part he’s just sitting on a single chord. But nothing, nothing, sounds like a cliche to me. And some of the notes he puts in there really shouldn’t work, but they do. And of course, there’s some amazing dynamics. You know where he’s going to go, but he takes his time getting there.
Guilty pleasure? Maybe. But next I’m going to go revisit Garrett’s great album Songbook.