It is good to have Kenny Garrett back so firmly in the driver’s seat. Coming on the heels of Seeds From The Underground from 2012, Pushing The World Away marks the first time in a decade that Garrett has released albums under his own name in consecutive years. It’s a wide-ranging collection, with multiple flavors, variously featuring three different drummers, two pianists, a percussionist, a guest trumpeter and a chamber string section, with Garrett departing from his alto sax for soprano on one tune and piano on another. And yet the package coheres through the energetic flair that is Garrett’s signature virtue as both player and composer. Thus, all three timekeepers mostly push and punish the beat, and where, among the pianists, Vernell Brown prefers cantering runs a la McCoy Tyner while Benito Gonzalez is more oriented to Latin jazz, they are specifically accommodated by Garrett’s compositions.
The lone non-Garrett original among the dozen songs is Burt Bacharach’s “I Say A Little Prayer,” performed with a little more church reverence and south-of-the-border lilt than the Dionne Warwick hit. As on Seeds, there are a bevy of tribute tunes, including “A Side Order of Hijiki” for the late Mulgrew Miller (keyed by Gonzalez’s bristling hard-bop run just seconds into the song); the vaguely Latin “Hey Chick” for Garrett’s recent bandmate Chick Corea; the self-explanatory “Chucho’s Mambo” for Chucho Valdes; and “J’ouvert (Homage To Sonny Rollins),” a calypso-tinged jaunt that has Garrett quoting Sonny’s “St. Thomas” at the end. Finally, “Brother Brown” is a paean to Pushing co-producer Donald Brown, performed on piano by Garrett with a string trio.
But the best material here has no overt agenda. The title track (with Garrett on soprano) and “Alpha Man” are both nearly nine minutes long, giving the ensemble room to roam through an array of moods and impulses, with the bobbing yet linear forward thrust that is Garrett’s métier. “Lincoln Center” is a sophisticated piece topped off by a glorious Garrett alto solo. “Homma San” is a simple yet gorgeous ballad, the best Garrett has written, and deserving of becoming a future standard. And “Rotation” closes things out with the relentless propulsion of all three drummers and two pianists on the same track. Such a fertile lineup is emblematic of the creative gusto informing Garrett’s career as he heads into his mid 50s.