Garrett comes out swinging on Cole Porter’s "What Is This Thing Called Love?" and it is crystal clear that this group wants nothing more to do with the easier listening, more commercial style of Garrett’s 1999 album, Simply Said. Standard of Language, Garrett’s eighth album with Warner Jazz, uses the traditions that shaped its players to unveil new possibilities in the future of jazz. In that sense, this record is admirably ambitious (if not totally successful).
Of the nine songs on this record, five were recorded during the September 11 recording sessions for Garrett’s Happy People album. "The tunes that I chose for Happy People were the songs I envisioned for that CD. We did a few more but I didn't think they fit at the time," explains Garrett.
"To complete Standard Of Language, I went back in the studio with the band in December (2001) to record 4 new songs that would be stylistically consistent with the five songs recorded on September 11," says Garrett. Those four additions are "Native Tongue," "Standard of Language," "Chief Blackwater" and "What Is This Thing Called Love."
"Kurita Sensei" pronounces drummer Chris Dave’s approach to compositional styled drumming - the provision of soundscape in support of Garrett’s reaching sax explorations. This is a cool 6/8 groove with a melody inspired by Wayne Shorter’s "Footprints."
The more mid tempo "Native Tongue" provides a welcome change when the listener’s ear needs it. The rhythm of drummer Chris Dave relaxes slightly into a shuffling and punctuated musical poem on which Garrett builds a more melodic journey.
By the CDs fifth track, "Chief Blackwater," the listener needs to accept that Garrett and his quartet have set a pace that defies any desire to call this an easy listening or New Age ensemble recording. You feel like you have been on a trip of much longer than five minutes: concentration of musical ideas.
"I wrote the tune with him (McCoy Tyner) in mind," says Garrett, ".... and (I) hope to record it with him at some point."
Garrett gives us brief respite on "Just A Second To Catch My Breath." "It reminds me of a movie theme," says Garrett.
Ditto for the listener. One does imagine this intelligent, more emotion laden, work to underscore a film scene with a lot of mood. This effect is, no doubt, enhanced by the slowing of the album’s busy pace for this ballad.
Marcus Miller does an excellent job in production. He pumps R&B and bass through the rhythms of this record while technically featuring Garrett in his appropriate place at the head of the recording.
"Gendai" runs along at a fair clip, somewhere between the overly quiet styling of the previous song and the album’s overheated opening. Regardless of where it fits on the spectrum, this song is excellent jazz.
"I'm working on setting what that standard should be for my music," says Garrett. "On this album, we stretched--without going too far--to capture the energy we have live on stage."
"Standard of Language," the album’s title track, is a great first effort at a suite featuring three musical movements. We end up in the beginning, again marveling at Garrett’s heated exchange between jazz improvisation and composition. This song marks some stellar musicianship from all members of the quartet, including guest drummer Eric Harland. The Kenny Garrett Quartet will surely play this song live for many years.
If Standard of Language pushes the listener into mild forms of irritation and strain, Kenny Garrett should be forgiven. Cutting edge work does that.