Friday, February 07, 2020

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis featuring Wayne Shorter - The Music of Wayne Shorter (Blue Engine Records, 2020)

This album was recorded in 2015, as the honoree was sitting in on soprano and tenor saxophone, with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis. The members of the orchestra arranged his compositions for the large ensemble from a cross section of his career, although most were written in the first decade of Shorter's career, when he was an enfant terrible, writing amazing compositions and turning heads while playing with Art Blakey, Miles Davis and producing an epic run of solo records for Blue Note. On this album he is presented more as the √©minence grise, receiving fealty from the younger musicians who have learned by playing with him or by learning his compositions. “Hammer Head” has a fast and punchy big band intro, its girth working in its favor this time, developing a swaggering swing that is like a fat man waddling with purpose down a crowded sidewalk. Nimble saxophone breaks out for a deft solo section, backed by a subtle rhythm section gradually framed by some of the other horns and handing off to a compatriot who develops a more complex statement out of the raw material provided. The music simmers down a bit for a milder trombone led interlude, eventually engulfed by the riffing whole group, and returns to the more urgent lead melody that struts proudly out. “Endangered Species” has a complex theme that is drawn out and expanded upon, with strong interplay among the musicians of the orchestra and soon a soprano saxophone emerges to fly above the undulating horns and piano led rhythm team. The music is patient and dynamic allowing the energy to flow with the soprano soaring high with an unusual pitch at times that takes the music to unexpected places and breaks up the buttoned down mood before yielding to more intricate full band play. “Lost” uses sharp descending peals of horns leading to subtle rich tones, mixing and melding at a medium tempo, with a saxophone gradually peeking out, and developing an open ended solo, gradually adding darting and juking figures as the master's solo becomes quite powerful in its own right, twisting and turning in an always unpredictable manner. There's a spare trumpet and bass interlude that works quite well, slowly growing as more instruments are added and the band returns to its full might before coming in for a landing. This was a solidly done project, it is always a treat to hear the music of Wayne Shorter, especially when the man himself is given a chance at the wheel. Perhaps this was a little overlong at ninety minutes, Shorter's spots are lovely, but there are passages for the big band that things start to drag. The Music of Wayne Shorter -

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