mon 18/12/2017

Wayne Shorter Quartet, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Wayne Shorter Quartet, Barbican

Wayne Shorter Quartet, Barbican

Legendary saxophonist in autumnal mood, but as brilliant and inventive as ever

Wayne Shorter: probably the most consistently creative composer in jazz

Wayne Shorter's current band do strange things with time - it seems to stretch and bend like in some subatomic experiment featuring rogue neutrinos. Their nifty time signatures would fuse any computer. The nature of the music itself seems outside time, both echoing that modern jazz annus mirabilis 1959 and being futuristic at the same time.

Shorter enjoys quoting his old cohort Miles Davis’s more enigmatic comments like, “Do you ever get fed up of making music that sounds like music?” What Shorter and his band do is at any rate not like anyone else’s music – they use a huge palette of colours, shiveringly chromatic, atonal and rough at times – at others sweet and mournful, notably when Shorter plays his soprano sax as though summoning up the spirit world.

Shorter's instrumental contributions to key bands like Miles Davis’s, Art Blakey’s and Weather Report would be enough to give him legendary status in jazz circles, but much more than that, he is probably the most consistently creative composer in jazz. Many of Miles’s best-known tunes were by him, like "Prince of Darkness", "ESP", "Footprints", "Sanctuary" and "Nefertiti", and he has been composing prolifically ever since.

Although he's 78, last night’s sold-out concert was all new material, to me anyway, except for what sounded like a version of “Atlantis” as an encore and a quote from Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”. At that age, you might be expecting some diminution of powers, but the clarity and range of his sax playing is as forceful as ever. Perhaps, though, from the off there was a more autumnal, wistful feel to the concert than other times I’ve seen him.

Reading about Steve Jobs this week and his abilities, according to co-workers, to create a “Reality Distortion Field” where his audience would be convinced of what he was saying, however outlandish, Shorter used to have a similar, more dominating, charismatic presence than was in evidence last night. But the more introspective Shorter was equally devasting.

The first number, which clocked in at an album's length 40-odd minutes but seemed to pass in a flash, was as much a classical as a jazz piece. The piece mixed evanescent beauty, and more violent storms, with grooves occasionally spotted hoving into view but never exactly arriving.

His band were as tight as you might expect as they know each other so well by now – he has kept the same quartet since the millennium, all of whom played dynamically, with lots of light and shade. Drummer Brian Blade ranged from skitterish to muscular, Danilo Perez's piano went from pretty to vicious, while the relatively self-effacing bassist John Patitucci held it all together. Shorter meanwhile floated on top with some intensely melodic sax lines, added rhythm and more abstract improvisations.

As band leader, Shorter performed like a man who has nothing to prove; every night as he tries (and succeeds) to reinvent invigoratingly fresh new music, his main competition is himself.

Watch the Wayne Shorter Quartet perform "Joy Rider"

 

The piece mixed evanescent beauty, and more violent storms, with grooves occasionally spotted hoving into view but never exactly arriving

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Comments

I guess it depends on your mood. I found the first 40 mins frustrating, largely pretentious, whimsical and bitty. If I could I have followed a theme, an occasional melody, a tune or even a rhythm perhaps then I would have enjoyed it more. Nobody can doubt the excellence of the technicians but I don't like paying to see four guys feel awfully pleased with their technique. I want to feel something special and quite frankly I was left cold. Fleeting seconds of Wayne's tones and moods floated occasionally above the virtuoso cacophony. After the second song I'd had enough. Just because Miles said he wanted to make music that did not sound like music doesn't mean we all have to like it. I hope the faithful musos enjoyed it, sorry I didn't, it went way above my head.

Sorry, but that is a slavish review of a terrible disappointment of a concert. Wayne Shorter has been one of the absolutely seminal leaders of the jazz world for over fifty remarkable and often brilliant years. The concert last night at the Barbican was an unengaging, intellectually stifling melange of cold, self-absorbed workouts, lacking any kind of soul, drive and - above all - engagement. The uber-cool detachment (obverse of engagement, natch?) included zero relationship to the audience and an interminably wandering, oh-so clever-clever ramble of a dirst number which to my mond lasted about three weeks. Self-absorbed, arrogant, intellectual aridity. Much preferred Sonny Rollins recent foray to the same venue.

Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter... well that's comparing apples with oranges isnt it? Sonny will always please his audience, Sonny will do what you expect him to do, Sonny is a good boy. Anyway three weeks (the "dirst" number) was about 40 minutes and it was probably the most exciting 40 minutes of your (concert)-life and you missed it: talk about self-absortion, arrogance and intellectual aridity ad infinitum, but once one starts listening, really listening - possibly something magical occurs.

Best 40 minutes of (one's) concert-life? You may need to get out more! Sonny Rollins is a "good boy"... So what does that make Wayne in the Saturday context? As I said, the fantastically overblown and frankly pompous noodling was nothing to write home about. Looks like the age-old Jazz problem of engagement/emotionality as against detached, Ivy League intellectualism. Give me Dexter Gordon or Charlie Parker any day...

Ok, it's not necessary to link the concert to Steve Jobs in any way, it wasn't sold out, and it wasn't part of the London Jazz Festival (which is in November). And of course Wayne Shorter "has nothing to prove". I mean...

Perhaps it wasn't necessary to mention Steve jobs, but it was the author's review and therefore his right to mention what he wanted to. I received at least two emails from Serious noting that the concert was sold out - what 's your primary evidence for saying that it wasn't? Oh - and I enjoyed the concert - challenging as it was in sections.

Don't understand the spat about whether it was sold out - I can assure you it was, if that is important to you. And no wonder. PC is spot on - for those of us who have followed Wayne over the years, this was absolutely spellbinding, mesmerising, and played at such a level of intensity time flew by. Wayne goes places way beyond most musicians, constantly changing, twisting and turning. This is not jazz with its quaint head and solos, this is four musicians playing simultaneously in the most brilliant, interlocking way, pushing and pulling each other to places impossible to predict at any moment. It is modern, abstract art, created right in front of you, and it is beautiful. Words can't really capture it.

hear hear - I assure you; it was sold out - I was first in the return queue.

Big name draw, long painful drawl ... inaccessible, Did you really enjoy it? If Wayne hadnt been there would you have tolerated it? Easily the worst jazz concert I have been to ... and I fear the last jazz outing my wife will ever make.

Sorry about your wife and to top it off she probably missed "Strictly" on the telly to please you. Easy tunes? No, Shorter could not be shorter on that. Accessible concert -look at what he has done before: this is hardcore stuff. Shorter is showing possibilities -listen to Speak no Evil again if you will.... If you had bothered to prepare for this really special gig one name would come to mind: John Coltrane. Wayne Shorter's quartet is building on what Coltrane's quartet did in the 60s and taking it in an amazing direction. Obviously it is demanding to sit through 40 minutes of continuous exploration if that is what is not expected, but a real jazz-concert is just that -one releases expectations; Shorter's crew certainly did not plan everything on the night and a second encore would be a sign that they were actually quite pleased with the gig and the audience. What you heared in action last saturday was something really special (listen to the BBC-recording in due course if you can) and not that easy to digest; 2 days on I am still reeling... -this from someone who has heard this band in the last decade in Liverpool, Brighton, Amsterdam and Brugge - and if I had the dosh I would go anywhere (Rome, Paris this month) to hear them again.

I found the concert spellbinding, bewildering, beautiful, ecstatic and exciting. Shorter and his musicians demonstrated consummate elasticity, malleability, versatility and inclusivity - they appeared to have assimilated ideas from across Shorter's entire career, and this could be disorienting but it was also tremendously exciting because of the sense of possibility. Ideas from Shorter's Weather Report days of an equal playing field were very much present, but there were also perhaps one or two numbers where the soloist/accompanist division was more in evidence with more perceptible modal changes. And as someone else above has mentioned, there were elements of Coltrane's last group, particularly in the rhythmic language and Brian Blade's drumming - similar to Rashied Ali's - both weightless and intense, concerned more (or just as much) with implying the pulse through duration rather than metre. And I won't pretend there isn't some effort required in following forty minutes of apparently ex nihilo music but won't this always be the case? And I was surprised when I read that it was this long - it felt about half that long. And I was very grateful for the encores - I could have listened to the band all night. I haven't stopped thinking about this concert since it began. Putting aside my above attempts to relate it to other music, I'd never heard music like that before. Shorter and his band has set a very high benchmark for other contemporary jazz or other improvised music to live up to.

Curious response, it seemed to completely divide the audience, which suggests to me that Shorter is on to something. Actually, I think the first posters had a point - this was much more intellectual and less emotional (and even spiritual) than some Shorter concerts, and it's fair to say those involved in music liked it better than the general audience. Which it why it only got 4 stars (do we like the stars by the way - or are they naff?) . But the level of invention and ability was still extraordinary to me. Other reviews published after this one in the FT, Jazzwise etc agreed with me as it happens, but it was more brilliance and less transporting or transcendent than previous concerts. Whoever said it wasn't the London Jazz Fest - that was a mistake and has been corrected. Docheck out the LJF link, anyway.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters