That Kenny Garrett is an unusually talented musician is a given. That he plays with fire, an inner burning to communicate with his audience and technique without end is beyond dispute. Putting it all together in a single package, however, has sometimes eluded him. Here, however, with Beyond The Wall, Garrett is back and as forceful an artist as there has ever been in jazz.
Joined by the best musicians working in jazz today, these masters demonstrate jazz is not just alive and well, but perhaps more exciting and vital than ever. In the first two cuts, "Calling" and "Beyond The Wall," the rhythm unit of pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Robert Hurst III and drummer Brian Blade, are on fire. They not just set the tone for the rest of the album with their rapier wit and intoxicating fire, but they play with a sympathetic ear and off of each other better than any similarly constructed rhythm section in a long time. Add to this the fact fellow saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, on these opening numbers, sounds better and more passionate than he has in years, along with Garrett’s submachine gun blaze of just the right notes at just the right time, and you have the makings of a torrent that can just not be quelled. The tone set by these opening numbers is so high it’s almost impossible to believe the album can make further strides - yet it does.
Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, vocalist Nedelka Echols and Blade fan the flames under Garrett on "Qing Wen" to such an extent and so prolifically you don’t want the tune to end. Garrett’s inexhaustible, ever-new and searching trains of thought run the piece for almost 10 minutes, and even then it’s truly not long enough. If anyone is rightful heir to Coltrane’s "Sheets Of Sound," as well as his ability to make one song vibrant for extended lengths, it’s Garrett.
The recording also includes points of meditative serenity, as on pieces like "Realization (Marching Towards The Light)." Garrett understands it’s not always necessary to make bold statements through speed and flash. By sampling the Tibetan Monk chant "TKTK," Garrett opens up a pathway between African-American, African and Tibetan mountain music in a manner honoring all three. Continuing the quest for extended vistas of musical community, "Tsunami Song" with its expanded instrumentation of harp, violin, cello, percussion and erhu (a two-string Chinese instrument), is the most openly Chinese sounding work on the recording, a cultural influence Garrett successfully sought out in preparing this CD. Through its slowly shifting timbral palette, Garrett allows time to weave itself in, out and around the piece’s harmonic underpinning in the same manner Monet used little touches of closely related colors to create a single picture of many hues.
The rest of the recording is just as good as the pieces mentioned above - pay particular attention to jazz legend Hutcherson’s brilliant solo on "Now." One would be hard to name a better vibraphonist working today. If you were looking for a must-have-at-all-cost CD of 2006, and maybe the decade, this is it.