Nicholas Payton, Bob Belden, Sam Yehel, John Hart, Billy Drummond: Mysterious Shorter: Music of Wayne Shorter
Chesky Jazz SACD 321.hybrid multilayer SACD Bob Belden, David Chesky, prods; Nicholas Prout, eng. DDD. TT: 60:00.
Nicholas Payton: trumpet; Bob Belden: saxophones; Sam Yehel: Hammond B3 organ; John Hart: electric guitar; Billy Drummond: drums.
We—or perhaps I should be completely accurate here and say I—have become so comfortable thinking of Wayne Shorter a an instrumental genius that we (I) forget just how powerful his compositions are. Mysterious Shorter serves as a timely reminder that the powerful tenor saxophonist could have been a powerful jazz voice without ever having played a note.
Even then, as Bob Belden observes in MS's liner notes, playing Shorter is as much about a state of mind as it is a melodic pattern and style. " "You have to be influenced spiritually. You have to be influenced by the way he approaches playing a melody, how to write melodies, how to play the saxophone in a certain kind of context. Wayne is about playing emotional, playing hardcore all the time, playing phrases, playing at the music inside the music, playing in the moment, not worrying about what it's supposed to sound like."
Well, yes—sort of. Shorter never let sounding "good" get in the way of what he was trying to say, but years after the shock and awe of, say, Juju, it's now hard to imagine a single note played any other way. Yet, the heart of jazz is to play every note as if it had never been played before.
That's where most tribute albums fall short—they tend to preserve a sound in amber, which tends to render the sound as lifeless as any insect similarly trapped in golden resin. Mysterious Shorter, I am happy to report, avoids sucking the life out of Shorter's music even as it manages to evoke his shade (not that, praise the Duke, he has passed on to another plane yet).
Bob Belden does manage to conjure up Shorter's penetrating tone and short, propulsive lines, but he's far too savvy to simply imitate his playing. It's obvious that he has internalized Shorter's sound and created his own art out of it—which is, of course, precisely the homage Shorter requires.
Good as Belden is, however, the real beauty of Mysterious Shorter lies in the interplay between Belden, trumpeter Nicholas Peyton, organist Sam Yehel, guitarist John Hart, and drummer extraordinaire Billy Drummond. "Teru," for example, relies far more on Peyton's long, languid lines and Yehel's moody chordal cushion than Belden's tough tenor, yet, on the following track, the music's all about the thrust and parry of Belden and Peyton, with the other three forming a fabulous rhythm section that is indeed nothing but rhythm.
Looking at the instrumental line up, you might think the band is missing a bass playing. True, it doesn't have one, but Hart and Yehel alternate laying down the foundation, locking into Drummond's timekeeping to propel the record along without a hitch.
A few weeks ago, I groused about the drums on the New York Sessions , suggesting that perhaps the venue of St. Peter's Episcopal Church may have necessitated Drummond's reliance on brushes (over reliance I felt). Well, chomp, chomp, chomp, I eat my words. Same venue, same producer: not a brush in sight (um, within earshot).
Furthermore, as I suspected at the time, Drummond—who is surely one of the most tasteful and actively listening drummers on the jazz scene today—never delivers more sound pressure than St. Peter's can support. The drum sound on MS is prodigiously alive and definitive.
All of the sound here is powerful and propulsive. Once again we have a Chesky single-point recording that employs no overdubs, no signal path compression, no multitracking, and no mixing desk. It sounds so great you'll be tempted to ask why everybody doesn't record like this.
The answer is, of course, that most musicians can't play like this. And that, is perhaps the greatest tribute to Wayne Shorter they could have made: real music played in the moment—that's Shorter's legacy and Mysterious Shorter honors it in the best way.