Thursday, June 23, 2005

Wayne Shorter – Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve, 2005)

This is the latest disc by legendary saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter who has formed one of the best working bands in the business with Danilo Perez on piano; John Patitucci on bass; and Brian Blade on drums. A sequel to 2003’s Footprints Live, this disc was recorded live in a variety of venues over the past couple of years. The music is accessible, yet abstract (as is Shorter himself) but it seems that the band has grown even tighter over the past couple of years, and the empathic relationship between Shorter and Perez has become a deep musical bond.

“Smilin’ Through” opens the disc and like many Shorter compositions it is oblique and not easily resolved. Mostly a dialogue between Perez’s lush piano playing and the leader’s saxophone. There is a haunted, graceful feeling here, and when the drums kick in late in the performance, Shorter’s soprano moves into high gear. “As Far as the Eye Can See” has a jaunty piano trio opening, with some high-pitched saxophone squeals – he’s back on the tenor and playing with a little fire in the belly. The music builds to an intense crescendo and then slowly fades out on a piano vamp. “On the Wings of Song” has some graceful soprano saxophone, and the theme has an innocent children’s rhyme type feel. Perez is featured, playing a solo at a relaxed, unhurried tempo.

“Tinker Bell” is a short feature for bowed bass, and is used an in introduction to “Joyride” where Patitucci goes back to the plucked bass with spare percussion and piano. Shorter enters tentatively with quick bursts before the full band comes together in a way that only hints at the song’s melody. Shorter’s snake-charmer saxophone weaves in and around the other instruments creating a self-contained world of sound. This is a truly impressive performance. “Over Shadow Hill Way” has a gentle opening on soprano and piano, where things gradually develop into a melodic statement. Shorter’s soprano playing seems much more pointed and direct here, as opposed to some of the semi-noodling that has dogged him in the past. The group is very tight during this performance, Blade gets a little solo space, but his biggest impact comes from his ensemble playing which is deeply in the pocket at all times.

The disc wraps up with the title track which is an excellent summation of the music on this disc and the direction this band has taken. Deeply abstract, but listenable and not especially daunting, using percussive piano to raise the tension to an ominous fever pitch while Shorter swoops and dives like a daredevil pilot. This band has come together as a deeply powerful unit, and the interplay between Shorter and Perez is truly amazing, so much so that I almost long to hear the two make a duo album. But in the end, it is the entire band that shares in this success, and this is an excellent example of what they have accomplished.

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