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JAZZ REVIEW : Garrett Proves His Mettle at Catalina

June 22, 1995|BILL KOHLHAASE

Talk about hard acts to follow. Saxophonist Kenny Garrett's opening night Tuesday at Catalina Bar & Grill, coming on the heels of sax sensation James Carter's blockbuster appearance in the same club the night before, invited comparisons that made Garrett look all the better.

While both men travel the innovative edges of sax playing, Carter's tonal high jinks, over-the-top exclamations and nonstop references to bygone masters make an immediate impact. But, despite his obvious talents, one can't help feel that Carter is just toying with the audience. By contrast, Garrett, who can be equally aggressive, comes off as deadly serious, someone with a strong point of view.

As he does on his new release, "Triology," Garrett worked with only bass and drums (Carter's quartet included piano), a ploy that put the focus squarely on his playing. The onetime Miles Davis sideman delivered with long, yet solidly creative improvisations that developed with all the form and function of a good short story. No need for egotistical displays or musical wisecracking here.

Garrett set a heated tone from the first number, his own "Two Down and One Across," building a series of blunt, alto phrases into an extended climax that peaked with an onslaught of searing high notes. John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," long the measure of a saxman's mettle, followed at an equally punishing tempo with Garrett employing some of Ornette Coleman's unruly style of exposition to carry his point. Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" gave Garrett a chance to unwind his narrative at a slower pace and with a more apparent sense of swing.

The always powerful drummer Jeff Watts made valuable contributions, especially to the up-tempo numbers, building a fire under Garrett's horn that sent it running. Complemented by hotfooted walks from bassist Nat Reeves, the drummer's dense sound made piano accompaniment unnecessary.

* The Kenny Garrett Trio plays Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, tonight through Sunday, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. $12 cover. (213) 466-2210.

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