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Listening Post: New music by Kenny Garrett and, as his 80th birthday approaches, Steve Reich


Kenny Garrett, “Do Your Dance” (Mack Avenue). When this record is good, it’s sensational. That’s how great an alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett so often is. When it’s pandering a bit to hip-hop ears (like Garrett’s son’s) – which it is on a couple of cuts – it’s still not too bad. This is Garrett’s fourth disc for Mack Avenue and, he says, was inspired by the amount of dancing he saw in his audiences on a recent world tour. The blistering opening “Philly” was inspired by a summer festival at Temple University (in venerable bebop style, Garrett quotes “Skip to My Lou” in his solo). It begins the disc with a full complement of ferocity to announce just how good this group is – pianist Vernell Brown Jr., bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer Roland Bruner Jr. It all ends with “Persian Steps” where Garrett also plays flute, and an Indian accordion. Garrett is one of the best alto players in all of current jazz, with a singular sound and the passion and heat of a saxophonist who could bring enough of both to satiate the demands of Miles Davis (which he once did, in one of Miles’ best latter-day groups). Three and a half our of four stars. (Jeff Simon)


Steve Reich, “Double Sextet” and “Radio Rewrite” performed by Ensemble Signal under conductor Brad Lubman (Harmonica Mundi) You can’t top the celebratory occasion for this new recording by Ensemble Signal, whose last Steve Reich recording was of Reich’s great early masterpiece “Music for 18 Musicians.” The occasion here is the approach of Reich’s 80th birthday on Oct. 3. In contrast to the marvelous “Music for 18 Musicians” whose prosaic title couldn’t possibly belie the music’s beauty more, these are relatively recent and lesser works by Reich – the “Double Sextet” from 2007 and “Radio Rewrite” from 2012. The latter stemmed from Reich’s witness of a performance of his guitar piece “Electric Counterpoint” by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. Reich wanted to return the favor in a new piece. As notater David Lang admits “in truth, there is not much Radiohead in ‘Radio Rewrite,’ just a few wisps of the harmonic motion from ‘Everything in the Right Place’ and a few scraps of tune from ‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place.’” Musical event is much more common in Reich’s current music which doesn’t begin to make it the equal of a piece as great as “Music for 18 Instruments” but does, for some, make it more “standard” and therefore approachable. Three out of four stars. (Jeff Simon)