What better way to start August, for me at least, than with the prospect of going to see this group play live this coming Sunday?
The first time I saw them play was about 5 years ago, and the dense complexity of their music left me in no doubt that this is one of the great working groups in jazz today, and Shorter one of the music's greatest survivors.
Andy Hamilton, whose new book on Lee Konitz is due out in the middle of the month, will be doing the driving, so this is an ideal opportunity to give his latest work a bit of a plug too. All I have to do is sit back and enjoy...
WAYNE SHORTER QUARTET
Beyond The Sound Barrier
Smilin’ Through; As Far As The Eye Can See; On Wings of Song; Tinker Bell; Joy Rider; Over Shadow Hill Way; Adventures Aboard The Golden Mean; Beyond The Sound Barrier.
Wayne Shorter (ts/ss); Danilo Perez (p); John Patitucci (b); Brian Blade (d)
Recorded 11/2002 to 04/2004
The stunning Footprints Live!, released by Verve in 2002, marked for me the end of a fallow period for one the music’s great original voices. Creator of some of the most forward looking semi-abstract jazz of the mid to late ‘60s, that he could have spent so much time in the wilderness was always a bit of a puzzle.
In many ways this quartet is an extension of Shorter’s great Blue Note period, though one which benefits from the wisdom of hindsight. Recorded at several concerts post-Footprints, the impression is given that one long piece of music is being explored. Suspicious minds may attribute this to clever post-editing rather than musical alchemy, but I saw this quartet play during one of those tours and know that their effortless shape shifting and intense concentration was strikingly present that evening.
Shorter delivers new material as well as revisiting many pieces that were disappointingly ‘lite’ first time around. Both ‘Joy Rider’ and ‘Over Shadow Hill Way’ (from the same lukewarm 1988 outing) become spellbinding explorations of structured collective improvisation, the real deal at last. This quartet know the ground rules and they stick to them, their vistas amounting to 360° vision.
Nothing is predictable - take the opening ballad “Smilin’ Through”. Starting as a ruminative dirge, the piece suddenly opens out, gathering pace as Shorter switches to soprano. Blade and Patitucci lock into a tight groove and Shorter snakes his way through the bars with some lithe circular breathing. Perez’ contributions range from the subtly supportive to full-on pianism that injects considerable nervous tension. One of the most distinctive characteristics of this often volatile group is the way in which rhythm is an equally important improvisational schema as both harmony and melody. By the time we get to the title track, a melody writhen out of a rhapsodic free-jazz exchange, we fully expect Shorter’s tenor to be knotty not liquid, his soprano shrill not smooth, compositional structures hazy and melodies more implied than overt.
It would be wrong to say that Shorter has never been away, as he’s certainly been guilty of pulling his punches in the past. The egos and melody-solo-melody structures of occasional supergroups such as VSOP have been welcome but less than fully convincing. Happily this group restores the midas touch that brought us those classic Blue Notes. Essential.
(Jazz Review, September 2005)