Pianist Hank Jones and alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett would appear to be unlikely musical partners. At 81, Jones is one of the few surviving bop-era originals, still playing with the elegant musicality that has characterized his music for decades. Although Garrett, 40, has performed in a number of mainstream settings (including the Mercer Ellington Orchestra), he is far better known for his work with the last Miles Davis groups and his own adventurous ensembles.
Yet, there they were, onstage together at Catalina Bar & Grill on Wednesday night, accompanied by the other members of the Jones Trio--George Mraz on bass and Dennis Mackrell on drums.
So how did this odd-couple musical encounter work out? Sometimes very well, sometimes less so. There were moments, for example, when hearing Garrett’s wild individualism in the setting of the Jones Trio’s smoothly integrated togetherness called up an image of what it might be like if, say, Allen Iverson were to suddenly take the floor in the company of the Utah Jazz.
Two radically different paths toward a similar goal, in other words. And the differences were never more clear than in the middle of Garrett’s extended choruses on “All the Things You Are.” As his soloing verged further and further away from the song’s familiar harmonic orbit, Jones’ eyes widened until he simply raised his hands from the keyboard and awaited Garrett’s return to familiar territory.
When the musical thinking was more in sync--as it was in a rendering of J.J. Johnson’s “Lament"--the strengths of each of the players, and of their styles, combined to produce an exquisite example of jazz that can only be described as timeless. Framed by Jones’ subtle chording, Mraz’s always miraculous counterlines and Mackrell’s low-key drumming, Garrett played with a subtlety and sensitivity not always present in his more aggressively monochromatic soloing.
The Jones Trio, opening the evening before Garrett’s participation, were, as always, a class act. And their interpretation of the standard “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” was a superb example of brilliantly creative, harmonic interplay between piano and bass. Piano trio jazz at its very best.
* The Hank Jones Trio with special guest Kenny Garrett at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday. 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (213) 466- 2210. $125 all-inclusive New Year’s Eve package price tonight; $25 cover Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m.; $20 cover Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9 p.m. Two-drink minimum.