"Standard of Language"

Warner Bros.

There are moments when it seems that saxophonist Kenny Garrett is never going to come up for air on his latest release, "Standard of Language." Take, for example, the opening track, a torridly paced reprise of "What Is This Thing Called Love?" in which John Coltrane's legacy looms large and Garrett seems intent on boldly reharmonizing the tune on the spot. It's an exhilarating start to a studio quartet session that frequently sounds as if it was recorded during an inspired club engagement.

Sparks from Garrett's alto continue to fly. "XYZ," a curiously constructed original composition, features a tricky harmonic cadence, some strident exclamations and a propulsive attack forged by pianist Vernell Brown, bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Chris Dave. Likewise, "Chief Blackwater," an homage to pianist McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance" days, capitalizes on Garrett's keening tone, harmonic fluidity and rhythmic drive, as well as the dramatic thrust generated by his bandmates.

But Garrett isn't always playing full-thrust and full-bore here. One of the album's more engaging pieces is "Kurita Sensei," a swirling, original melody that that unfolds in 6/8 time and suggests the triple-meter influence of both Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. Another album highlight, "Doc Tone's Short Speech," finds Garrett on soprano sax, sustaining a soulful mood, albeit one that embraces both lyricism and restlessness, while paying tribute to his late friend and collaborator, pianist Kenny Kirkland. The album concludes with the title track, a three-part original suite featuring Eric Harland on drums. Eleven minutes long, the suite moves from tumultuous swing to unabashed romance to an incendiary, alto-driven climax.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Friday through Sunday at Blues Alley. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Kenny Garrett, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8102. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)

Kenny Garrett captures the essence of his live act on his new studio album.