Kenny Garrett’s latest release, Sounds from the Ancestors, is a multi-faceted album. The music, however, doesn’t lodge inside the tight confines of the jazz idiom, which is not surprising considering the alto saxophonist and composer acknowledges the likes of Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye as significant touchstones. Similar to how Miles Davis’s seminal LP, On the Corner, subverted its main guiding lights—James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone—then crafted its own unique, polyrhythmic, groove-laden, improv-heavy universe, Sounds from the Ancestors occupies its own space with intellectual clarity, sonic ingenuity, and emotional heft.
“The concept initially was about trying to get some of the musical sounds that I remembered as a kid growing up—sounds that lift your spirit from people like John Coltrane's A Love Supreme; Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace, Marvin Gaye's What’s Going On, and the spiritual side of the church,” Garrett explains. “When I started to think about them, I realized it was the spirit from my ancestors.”
Indeed, Sounds from the Ancestors reflects the rich jazz, R&B, and gospel history of his hometown of Detroit. More important though, it also reverberates with a modern cosmopolitan vibrancy—notably the inclusion of music coming out of France, Cuba, Nigeria, and Guadeloupe.
With his illustrious career that includes hallmark stints with Miles Davis, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, as well as a heralded career as a solo artist that began more than 30 years ago, Garrett is easily recognized as one of modern jazz’s brightest and most influential living masters. And with the marvelous Sounds from the Ancestors, the Grammy Award-winning Garrett shows no signs of resting on his laurels.