Two Shorter Scenes…..

Through an unusual release date confluence, this week brings the chance to hear saxophonist Wayne Shorter at two revealing points in his career – playing in Europe in 1969 as part of Miles Davis’ little-heard “third” quintet, and leading his own group at various European stops in 2011 on his first album for Blue Note in 43 years, Without A Net.

Taken together, the works offer a chance to zoom in on the evolution of one of the last remaining jazz mavericks, a masterful composer and improviser whose impact is impossible to precisely gauge. Without Shorter, who turns 80 later this year, the notion of composition in jazz would be very different. As would the notion of the compositional mood dictating what happens when the solos begin. Check out the version of “Footprints” from Live in Europe 1969: It’s got the upheaval we associate with that tumultuous year, it’s got Miles playing with more rat-a-tat fury than he ever did, and still, somehow, the melancholic brood of this durable tune prevails.

Jazz musicians leave status updates every time a performance is documented, of course, but few have done so for so long, and at Shorter’s level of inspiration. From very early solo recordings through his stint with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers through the Davis ‘60s quintet (the one with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams), through such solo landmarks as Juju and Speak No Evil through his work with Weather Report and subsequent solo endeavors, Shorter blazed a trail of profound and often disruptive originality. His discography describes rapid – and, as Without A Net demonstrates, still in progress – evolution.   Each band and each period seems to bring forth something different from Shorter: His solos on tunes from the 1960s are studies in scampering, impulsive-sounding runs (notice the torrents of blurry superfast lines on “Directions” from Live in Europe 1969). His ballads for Weather Report endure as brooding, stately elegies. His new tunes on Without A Net  have an insistent, keenly alert pay-attention quality – their beseeching melodies offer quirky, wonderfully ragged respite from everyday bebop proficiency.

Shorter has always been a meta-musician, his work a constant reminder that in jazz, a singular conceptual vision can be as important as technical acumen. In 1969, responding to the crisply chopped accompaniment from Chick Corea, Shorter plays at lightning speed – but he’s never slinging stuff he worked out practicing. Instead, he’s reacting to and trying to influence the frequently-shifting direction of the music. If you go right from the 1969 live material to the new work, which is also recorded live, the first thing you may notice has to do with energy: These guys in Shorter’s band (pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Pattitucci, drummer Brian Blade) are playing hard and fierce, with a lust for life that has been missing from just about everything sold as “jazz” in recent years. Exhilarating and alive, studded with rhythms that have great swing fluidity as well as the stomp of funk (sometimes all at once!), these performances expose the emotional bankruptcy of jazz as practiced by fussy scholarly preservationist types. Using wild lunges and pinpoint-precise gestures, Shorter’s group shows just how timid even great musicians are when interpreting his complex, endlessly challenging tunes. If it’s been awhile since you’ve been thrilled by improvised music, consider taking this two-part journey: Start with Davis’ little-heard ’69 quintet to hear the group’s high-speed chase scenes, pushed by Shorter to the brink of frenzy. Then flip over to the saxophonist’s new Without a Net to encounter a current group operating on the interactive frequency that was so prevalent in 1969 – except they’re using current vocabulary, and current notions about consonance and dissonance. Though recorded more than 40 years apart, these two ripping good titles somehow land in the same spot: This is music that puts you on the edge of your seat, and keeps you there.

http://www.npr.org/2013/01/30/170662462/a-1969-bootleg-unearths-miles-davis-lost-quintet

 

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A Different Kind of X Factor

Out of the spectacular disarray of the modern record business, several abiding truths have emerged, and a few have even taken root as gospel. One has to do with the primacy of the live experience: How, regardless of the genre, there is a certain “thing” that happens when a group of musicians gather to chase ideas together. At the risk of sounding New Age squishy, you could call it an “energy.” If at this juncture you require an illustration of this, track down anything from the new Miles Davis Quintet Bootleg Series Vol. 1, Live In Europe 1967. It’s frightening and intense and completely riveting. (I’ll scribble more on it in a subsequent post….).

In a sense, this energy is the eternal live-music holy grail, and it happens at all levels and in any size venue. You’re walking by a bar no bigger than a railroad car, and before you even process what song is being played, you can tell that some music of substance is going on – and you’re drawn to discover what the musicians are in the process of discovering. It seems effortless but is rarely accidental. There are environmental variables, and attitude variables, and also technical hurdles; sometimes even the most skilled players end up crashing and burning, while beginners stumble into greatness. There is, though, one X-Factor that seems to be a constant throughout many of these situations: Open-mindedness. Some players radiate the willingness to explore and try stuff, and just by their openness, they create conditions that are favorable for creativity. Possibilities seem to open up when they are involved. They lift everyone on stage up. People begin to listen at a deeper level. Connections just happen.

If there’s an aesthetic goal of Jazz Casual (the Tuesday night session at Milkboy Philly), it’s to develop a setting where those connections are possible. Even if it means playing very much in a back-to-basics temperment – especially if that’s what prevails. The & Friends band is wired that way, and so are the guests we’ve lined up. Last week, the pianist Mike Frank – a firestarter who is integral to an array of musical endeavors in Philly right now – tossed out ear-stretching, endlessly surprising ideas. This week, we’re lucky to be joined by vibraphonist Behn Gillece, who participated with Mike Frank and I in the Moon Hotel Lounge Project experiment. Behn plays a regular Tuesday thing at Small’s in NYC — we’re lucky to get him! — and leads a ferocious band of his own. You might have seen him accompanying Melody Gardot, among others. As I’ve learned hearing him play in many different contexts, Behn has a gift for sneaking subtle colors and shades into the musical landscape, responding in ways that seem to gently open up possibilities.

Check him out tonight at Jazz Casual! He’ll be playing with TM, Ryan McNeely (guitar), Mark Pryzbylowski (bass), Eli Sklarsky (drums) and some special guests! Begins shortly after 8 pm at Milkboy Philly, 1100 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. 215.925.MILK.

And then tomorrow at: www.behngillecejazz.com/