The approach is not unlike that of a major league hitter who likes fastballs on the first pitch: The action is immediate and the results often scintillating, the rare breathtaking moment in a baseball game. The alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett stood sideways to audience, whispered a count and bam! Like hitter smacking the ball toward the bleachers, he and the band were off and running with abandon for 15 minutes on Herbie Hancock’s “One Finger Snap.”
Having come to prominence in one of Miles Davis’ later bands, Garrett, a consistent poll winner for his alto saxophone playing, is a fireball in a live setting. On his recent Warner Bros. outing, “Simply Said,” and the handful that preceded it, by contrast, he stresses melody and coherence, venturing into the light side of rap, funk and the music of John Coltrane.
On this, the second set of the second night, Garrett displayed a wondrous sense of invention as he tackled Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” with far more intensity than he did on record, venturing unaccompanied with focus intact and showcasing his band, particularly the light touch of pianist Nick Smith.
Venturing into his own compositions, Garrett began to simmer on numbers such as “Charlie Brown Goes to South Africa,” which is exactly that — Vince Guaraldi with funky poly-rhythms — and his spin on beat poetry, “Back Where You Started.”
Garrett’s key foil is drummer Marcus Baylor, who kept time within a flurry of patterns that were sometimes too sprawling for the music while his solos were welcome flights of hard-nosed drumming. But the evening got an added spark when ace trumpeter Roy Hargrove approached the stage from the side and began a duel with Garrett that continued through the final three numbers. Hargrove clearly pushed Garrett without upstaging him, a demonstration of the rewards only jazz can deliver when the musical environment is perfect.