Monday, June 11, 2007

The Bad Plus have another typically excellent post on their blog about Jazz in the 1990's. Ethan makes some very interesting points about Wayne Shorter:

"If I have lost anybody at this point, let me be precise: Wayne Shorter is one of the greatest players and composers of jazz music. At least two of his own records, Ju-Ju and Speak No Evil, (both from 1964) are among the very finest jazz records ever. Many regard the Shorter-editions of the Art Blakey (1959-'64) and Miles Davis ('64-'70) bands to be the leaders' best."

He wrote this in response to some comments he quoted questioning Shorter's value as a composer and instrumentalist. It's hard to believe that anyone would need to prove Shorter's bona fides any longer. His track record as a composer and as an instrumentalist speaks for itself. Try to imagine an alternate universe without Shorter, how would have jazz developed both in terms of composition and improvisational structure? Now, I'm a listener not a player, and to be honest I know embarrassingly little about the technical aspects of music. But even I can hear that his conception both in terms of the music he writes like "Lester Left Town", "Dance Cadaverous", and of course "Footprints" are unique in the jazz canon. He has an original improvising strategy on the soprano saxophone to stand with the likes of Sidney Bechet, Steve Lacy and John Coltrane; and his tenor saxophone improvising is of an extraordinarily high order as well.

To be sure, he's gone down a number of blind alleys during the course of his career - I never really got into Weather Report or his Eighties and Nineties albums with electronic instruments (but they are not nearly as bad as Peter Watrous would lead you to believe). His acoustic band of the past decade has been fascinating to listen to, particularly his interaction with pianist Danillo Perez who is a true kindred spirit. I wonder if the reason that musicians and critics are selling him short is the fact that he has lived so long and has had such a mercurial career. Sadly in jazz, legends don't often grow into their autumn while still experimenting. Shorter has had the temerity to live on and do things his way, to go on being "Mr. Weird" regardless of what anyone thought.

More power to him.

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