Saxophone icon Wayne Shorter is – apart from Miles Davis – possibly the most uncompromising artist in jazz, if not in modern music. Shorter, whether in his own early Blue Note recordings, in his playing and composing for Miles’ 1960’s quintet or his time co-leading 70’s jazz-rock juggernaut, Weather Report has only ever done things Wayne Shorter’s way. And the jazz canon has undeniably been the richer for it.

In March 2010, Wayne Shorter toured Australia with his quartet and – as all truly pioneering artists do – fiercely divided audiences across the country. I was at his Sydney Opera House gig and recognised more than a few of our supposedly more progressively minded jazz players in the streams leaving the hallowed hall during his set.

Wayne Shorter

Shorter’s new album, Without A Net is eight live recordings (and one orchestral piece) from a late 2011 European tour with the same band that blitzed Australia – pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and the explosive Brian Blade, a hyper-kinetic drummer that makes Keith Moon look like Karen Carpenter. This is the 80 year old Shorter’s first album for the Blue Note jazz label for 43 years – yes, the numbers suggest great age and a charitable homecoming, but Without A Net is far from a creaky, olde tyme trip: it is as vital and new as tomorrow’s sun, each track roaring out of the speakers with full-blooded urgency. It is the three younger sidemen trying to keep up with Shorter rather than the other way around.

Of the three remakes on the album – Shorter also reworks his own Weather Report composition ‘Plaza Real’ and the 1933 film tune ‘Flying Down to Rio’ – the opening track ‘Orbits’ sets the pace. ‘Orbits’ was a piece Shorter contributed to Miles Davis’s 1967 album Miles Smiles – there it was a brisk bebop line, here it is a lugubrious piano riff that gets thrown around from piano to bass to soprano sax until the whole band has picked its bones.

Unlike most jazz you will hear today, it is not just one solo predictably following another but more of a group improvisation as the muse takes them. This group soloing not only aligns Shorter’s new music with the Free Jazz movement of the 1960’s but, surprisingly, with original Dixieland jazz of the 20’s. It also seems to cheese off the more conservative jazz listener more than it really should.

It’s not all frenetic momentum though – the lovely ‘Starry Night’ and the opaquely impressionistic ‘Myrrh’ show the band’s more introspective side; the intro to ‘Myrrh’ in particular is like listening to music underwater, floating in a warm current, unafraid and tranced-out. The band can also pull off a great Latin groove too (Shorter has always drawn heavily on the rhythmic innovations of Cuban jazz and the harmonic quirks of Brazilian Bossa Nova) – ‘SS Golden Mean’ (with a wry quote from Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Manteca’) and ‘Flying Down to Rio’ have a light Latin skip to them – but of course, as seen through the lens of Shorter and his band, which can be a sharpening lens or conversely, a distorting lens (groovy either way to my ear).WayneShorterQuartet_Withoutanet

The centrepiece of Without A Net is the 23 minute tone poem ‘Pegasus’. Recorded with the quartet and The Imani Winds, ‘Pegasus’ moves between shadowy, veiled passages which move slowly like cloud-shadows over savannah and sharply rhythmic passages with the orchestral ensemble stabbing and riffing in and around the jazz group. As is expected of Wayne Shorter, ‘Pegasus’ is like nothing you or I have ever heard: like much of his Weather Report work, it pulls in flavours and energies from European classical music, African talking drums, American jazz and points north south east and west. The result is pure Shorter and pure wonder. Not an easy ride, but what soul-deep experience ever is?

I will give the final word to Wayne Shorter himself. When reflecting on his lifelong dedication to the path of the artist, he says “The challenge we as artists face today is to create a ‘singularity’ or an ‘event horizon’ so that as human beings we will break the cycle of ego dominated actions which through repetition keep us bound to stagnation which denies us entrance to the Portal of Life’s Ultimate Adventure!”

Without A Net will be released worldwide February 5, 2013.

Wayne Shorter’s website is here.

 

Published January 2013 on theorangepress.net

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Sharon Thompson says:

    Thorough thoughts Mr H

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s