Kenny Garrett - Chinese Whispers

Kenny Garrett is forever etched on the jazz imagination for his touring and recording with Miles Davis in the last period of the trumpeter’s life. Garrett and Miles made the most unlikely songs work. Long since a leader of distinction with many albums under his belt, Garrett made a creative leap of considerable audacity some years ago when he started to incorporate Chinese music into his vision of jazz, moving away from Coltrane tributes and a funkier direction. Andy Robson talks to the alto saxophonist about his new "Great Wall of China" project, dedicated to McCoy Tyner, tracks the erhu down to its lair and discovers what really happened when Kenny-met-Pharoah. Kenny Garrett - Chinese Whispers
Hadrian had a big one, marathon runners hit them, the Israelis are still building one and Roger Waters is forever tearing down great big polystyrene ones. What, you may ask, has this got to do with Kenny Garrett? Well, in typically transcendent style, he’s going beyond his remit. The saxophonist’s wall is the great one in China. For Garrett, whose love of south east Asia is well documented and is reflected in songs such as ‘Gendai’ on Standard Of Language or ‘Asian Medley’ on Happy People, the great wall of China is the ultimate destination. He had always wanted to visit it, along with all the sites, sounds and people of mainland China. It could be seen as an unusual ambition although the Chinese contribution to American is a major one it’s also, like the story of many "minorities" in the USA, largely unrecognised. Before Garrett the most conspicuous American to visit China was Richard Nixon.

There’s also a stereotype that African Americans and eastern peoples don’t get on. The image of clashes between Korean shopkeepers and looters during the Los Angeles troubles has also lingered. But Garrett isn’t interested in stereotypes or polarisations. Like his mentor Miles Davis, he is his own man, endowed with a vision that is idiosyncratically personal, yet linked to wider issues such as black consciousness, spiritual awakening and social awareness that are reflected not so much in an ideology or religion but in the aura of free spirits Garrett likes to hang out with. Beyond The Wall includes Pharoah Sanders, Bobby Hutcherson and, by way of dedication, McCoy Tyner. That’s an awful lot of soul. But let Garrett explain himself.  Andy Robson

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