Friday, January 1, 2010

A Guide to Wayne Shorter

Of all my jazz heroes, and that's a lot of heroes, I probably have the greatest affection for Wayne Shorter.  I got interested in Shorter when I saw one of his recordings featured in the Zen Mountain Monastery catalog of meditation supplies.   I started picking up Shorter discs after that, and I have not been disappointed in any of them.

I think that Shorter is one of the most underrated geniuses in the history of modern jazz.  His work on the saxophone easily puts him in the top ten bop and post bop players; his work as musical director for Art Blakey and later for Miles Davis has no comparison anywhere; he is also one of the most brilliant composer/players of his generation.  What ties all these achievements together, what is at the heart of the Shorter phenomenon, is storytelling.  Listen to any Shorter line, no matter when or where, and you will hear a story.  Much the same is true of his composition when they are played by others.

Well, I think this should be the decade when Wayne is rediscovered by the jazz world as the indispensable man that he is.  To that end I offer a simple guide to Shorter's first decade.

The Early Recordings
  1. Introducing Wayne Shorter (1959) Lee Morgan (tp) Wynton Kelly (p) Paul Chambers (b) Jimmy Cobb (d)
  2.  Second Genesis (1960) Cedar Walton (p) Bob Cranshaw (b) Art Blakey (d)
  3. Wayning Moments (1962) Freddie Hubbard (t) Eddie Higgins (p)  Jymie Merritt (b) and Marshall Thompson (d)
The first of these recordings is a superb statement of Wayne's genius.  It is solid hard bop, with rich and distinct melodies.  Morgan's horn does what God intended, and the rhythm section speaks for itself.  By contrast, Second Genesis is a very weird album.  With Walton and Blakey on board you would expect something grand, and in a way you get it.  The trouble is, it seems that the recording is the same song done over and over again.   The most you can say is that each number is a variation on the theme established by the first cut.  It's great playing and improvisation, but I'd leave this one until you are nearing a complete collection.

The Spooky Core
  1. Night Dreamer (1964) Lee Morgan (tp) McCoy Tyner (p) Reggie Workman (b) Elvin Jones (d)
  2. Juju (1964)  McCoy Tyner (p) Reggie Workman (b) Elvin Jones (d) 
  3. Speak No Evil (1964) Freddie Hubbard (tp) Herbie Hancock (p) Ron Carter (b) Elvin Jones (d) 
  4. The Soothsayer (1965) Freddie Hubbard (tp) James Spaulding (as) McCoy Tyner (p) Reggie Workman (b) Tony Williams (d)
This is the core of Shorter's corpus.  Speak No Evil is widely and deservedly regarded as one of the most perfect jazz albums ever recorded.  I put it in my top tenNight Dreamer and Juju are nearly as good.  The storytelling element is most evident in these recordings, and both composition and execution are classical.  I confess that I am biased.  I really like spooky stories, and the low mist flows over slightly raised earth in all of these works.  The Soothsayer is the weakest of the four, but it is still well worth having.

I'll stop here for now.  Here are a couple of samples from the lesser known works.
Blues A La Carte/Introducing Wayne Shorter
Lost/The Soothsayer
So join me in my quest to elevate Wayne Shorter. 

No comments:

Post a Comment