Waning Shorter

Wayne Shorter marked his 75th birthday with a concert at Carnegie Hall last night. The show began with the Imani Winds, a spirited quintet of woodwinds and French horn, briskly traversing Villa-Lobos’ “Quintette en Forme de Choros,” followed by the world premiere of Shorter’s own classicial composition, “Terra Incognito.” (Let’s just say Gunther Schuller has nothing to worry about.) Exit Imani Winds, enter the Wayne Shorter Quartet, sparking lusty applause but not much after. Shorter’s band was, as usual, great. Danilo Perez, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Brian Blade, drums—not many rhythm sections can whip up such a turbulent swing. But it’s incomplete by design, it screams out for some saxophone colossus to rise up against the storm with a mind-blowing solo or a lyrical cri de coeur, something that sharpens the tension or takes your breath or simply excites. Shorter was once a master at this art, the designated heir to Coltrane and a more agile composer to boot. Check out his sessions with the early-‘60s Jazz Messengers and mid-‘60s Miles Davis, or his own albums, especially See No Evil and Juju or his 2001 recording with this same quartet, Footprints Live! But in recent years he’s been prone to laziness, and last night fit the bill. Occasionally, he’d lock into a groove and start to slide into a melody, a coherent passage that lasted a few bars, but then he’d back away and retreat to riding scales and wailing random whole notes. For the last few numbers, the Imani Winds returned, and the two ensembles played together. The arrangements, by Shorter, weren’t bad; his playing had its moments, but fell well below his peak potential. Toward the end of the quartet segment, Shorter quoted his old boss Art Blakey as saying, “When you get to a certain age, you don’t got to prove nothin’!” Maybe so, but, as Blakey demonstrated till the very end, when he was only a few years younger than Shorter is now, you’ve still got to come out and play.

Dennis Davis's picture

I've gone to hear Shorter many times over the years, and have become dissatisfied with his direction and performance in the last several years. I've pretty much decided to vote with my ticket buying dollar by spending it elsewhere in the future. This will probably end up being a resolution to be broken. However, to refer to Shorter's problem as laziness is presumptuous. One of the problems with blogs is that the distinction between self-reflection and self-importance can become blurred. I think you crossed a line you may later regret.

John Atkinson's picture

I was listening to Miles in the Sky last night -- I find it hard to believe WS is 75; to me, he still is this great young tenor player!

selfdivider's picture

I read the NYT review of this concert this morning & kicked myself for not having been able to go...

Dave Douglas's picture

Hey Fred - Have to take serious umbrage with you on this one, and said so in a post over at my place. From where I was sitting (right up front, which may have had something to do with it) the concert was overwhelmingly expressive and Shorter's current direction is a major inspiration to me and most of the musicians I know. I saw this presentation a few times this year, and the melding of composition and improvisation is a giant leap forward from the approach of the 1950s and 60s. To my ears Shorter is playing the most beautiful saxophone of his career. So there you have it - oh well, different strokes... In any case, best regards of the season to you and family.