Artists to look out for: Wayne Shorter Quartet with Brian Blade, Danilo Perez & John

2011-03-25 17:10

“He’s the voice of music now that I most respect, flat out, in any genre. He is valid. He’s the real thing. He’s solid”, said bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding when she referred to veteran saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Given Spalding’s youthfulness, some may argue that such adulation is a product of being overawed. But such a conclusion would not be correct.

Shorter is one of the most important jazz composers of the twentieth century. His compositions such as “Footprints”, “Juju” and “Water Babies” have become jazz standards that students study all over the world. Small combos as well as full orchestras perform his music. Shorter belongs to the team of jazz greats not only as a result of his playing and compositional abilities, but the depth of his conception. In his autobiography, Miles Davis describes the saxophonist as a “conceptualizer of musical ideas”. Referring to the influence that Shorter brought into his band, Davis says, “Wayne brought in a kind of curiosity about working with musical rules. If they didn’t work, then he broke them, but with a musical sense”.

Shorter has been at the centre of innovations that changed the course of music in the last 50-years. In all the bands that he served in as a sideman, he assumed the role of a de facto in-house composer. Born in New Jersey, Shorter started to play with pianist Horace Silver, saxophonist Sonny Rollins and trumpeter Maynard Fergusson in 1958. In this period, he also took part in jam sessions with John Coltrane. This is before he had a four year stint with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. The 77-year old saxophonist is credited as the creative brains that drove Miles Davis’ 1964 quintet. In 1970, Shorter founded jazz-rock fusion band Weather Report with keyboardist, Joe Zawinul. The band which the saxophonist was with for 15-years broke loose from strictures of eight-bar phrases. From the mid-1970s branched again and connected with Brazilian artists such as Milton Nasciemento and Airto Moreira. The saxophonist also found himself in company of pop artists such as Carlos Santana, Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan. “The word ‘jazz’ means to me no category. But when you get stuck into wanting to do something with a ‘jazz emblem’ or logo chained around your neck, you play in a frozen moment in time”, Shorter told Mel Martin in The Saxophone Journal interview.

Since 2000, Shorter who seldom delivers honking saxophone sounds has performed and recorded with his acoustic all-star quartet. With his current band, he does what he rarely did in the past; revisit his old compositions although with some reinvention. Giving freshness and vitality to old compositions is in line with Shorter’s philosophical belief of there being no beginning and ending. A strong believer in unearthing the piano-like qualities of a saxophone, Shorter’s introspective tone is engulfing.

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