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July 8, 2013

Wayne Shorter Returns to Blue Note

Wayne Shorter Without a Net Jazz

Time And Age Can’t Diminish Wayne Shorter

By Armand Lewis

W

ayne Shorter is one of the few chameleons in jazz. Adaptable to any musical setting he finds himself in, the saxophonist’s career spans everything from the hard bop of the 1950s to the modal jazz era of the 1960s and into the jazz/rock fusion era of the 1970s. Even into the 1980s and ‘90s, Shorter continued to stretch himself musically with projects that most jazz musicians would consider outside of their normal range.

Born in Newark New Jersey in 1933, Shorter was an imaginative child whose creativity manifested itself primarily through drawing and art rather than music. Along the way, he came under the spell of jazz and took up clarinet and a bit later tenor saxophone. In the late 1960s, he would also take up soprano saxophone — forging an instantly identifiable sound on that instrument.

Among the first generation of jazz musicians to be college educated, Shorter is extremely well versed in classical form, the result of both early exposure at home as well as at Arts High School and later New York University. This familiarity with classical form gives him the foundation over which he creates flowing, engaging melodies that stand on their own yet can be improvised around.

Without A Net Blue Note Records Wayne ShorterOnce out of college and the military, Shorter was snapped up by Maynard Ferguson’s big band in 1958. That was the first of a series of high profile gigs, which included tenures with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (starting in 1959), Miles Davis (starting in 1964), as well as his own fusion group Weather Report from 1970 through the mid 1980s.

Along the way, there were numerous albums under his own leadership for VeeJay and Blue Note in the 1960s, and later for Columbia and Verve Records. Now, at age 80, Wayne Shorter has returned to Blue Note with a new album. Without a Net (Blue Note 79516), an extended album of concert recordings, is possibly Shorter’s best album in many years.

The opening track, “Orbits” (originally composed for Miles Davis’ LP Miles Smiles) starts off with an ominous vamp suitable for a mystery film score. Resolving into orbiting explorations around the structure, Shorter and pianist Danilo Perez continuously re-shape the mood and feeling of the piece, their improvisations taking it from dark to light, up into space and back down to earth again.

The rhythm section of pianist Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade is featured prominently throughout the album, with “Starry Night” specifically showcasing Perez and Blade. Shorter’s quartet has been together for over a decade now and their almost telepathic rapport with each other is truly remarkable as this tune builds from a contemplative, almost romantic opening into choruses of strong and powerful invention.

“Plaza Real” is likely the most exciting performance on the album with Shorter flying, swirling and careening through the melody as pianist Perez and drummer Blade pulse below keeping the performance tethered to a driving rhythm. Originally composed for Weather Report’s “Procession” album in the 1980s this acoustic version is simply Shorter and his quartet at their best.

The heart of the album is the extended track “Pegasus”. The 23-minute piece features the quartet, and also the Grammy nominated Imani Winds quintet, creating an almost orchestral background for Shorter and company’s improvisations. Placed almost a half-hour into this dense, rich album, this piece can be a bit overwhelming. Play it on it’s own (like playing one side of an LP) and listeners will realize that “Pegasus” is something of a masterpiece — a work of symphonic proportions combining a classical feeling with brilliant sustained jazz improvisations.

Later in the album, bassist John Patitucci introduces “Zero Gravity to the 10th Power” with a funky solo that evolves into layers of melody and rhythmic interplay as Perez, Blade and Shorter (playing tenor sax) all contribute everything from Latin grooves to classical motifs.

At age 80, Wayne Shorter continues to create music and perform around the world. And as this album shows, time and age have not diminished either his talents or his abilities. As full of life and music as he is, there may be other albums coming soon.

Armand Lewis buys and sells rare Jazz LPs. He can be reached at mrbluenote@peoplepc.com  






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