sun 21/04/2024

Wayne Shorter Quartet, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Wayne Shorter Quartet, Barbican

Wayne Shorter Quartet, Barbican

Saxophone legend mixes sweetness and atonality to climax the EFG London Jazz Festival

Wayne Shorter: veteran saxist blows audience away

At 83, and with 60-odd years on the road, Wayne Shorter could be forgiven for, in a musical sense, getting the slippers and pipe out and knocking out comfortable versions of his hits, the classic tunes he wrote for Miles Davis among them, like “Footprints” and “Sanctuary”.

But instead, he went full tilt into a largely improvised set consisting of only five numbers in 90 minutes, most of them recent, and then a new collaboration, given only its second outing at the Barbican.

There were a few times you thought you had heard some of these these musical conceits before - but that is mainly because so many have borrowed from him and he invented a language of which you hear variants in numerous other jazz outfits. 

He is an artist who can effortlessly mix a certain sweetness with bracing atonality, who has digested Bartók and Ravel as well as Thelonius Monk and the blues to provide thrillingly new music. As a saxophonist, he tends towards the minimal, perhaps partly concerving his energy - often pulling an expression at the end of a phrase as though to say he himself was surprised by it. He credits Buddhism and staying away from drugs for his longevity, and it would not be entirely fanciful to suggest the lack of ego amongst the quartet had the benefit of his buddhistic studies. If the show took a little while to achieve lift-off, and perhaps never reached the blissful transcendence of Shorter's groups at their peak, it was still an evening of impressive artistry. 

The bass and drums taking up defence or moving into open space when things opened up, with Perez leading the attack

He remains adventurous in his repertoire - relatively recent recordings like “Adventures Aboard The Golden Mean” and the opener “Zero Gravity” were mere jumping off points for his longstanding quartet - pianist Danilo Perez, double bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. They had all the attributes of a top sports team, the bass and drums taking up defence or moving into space when things opened up, with Perez leading the attack, and doing some unexpected moves like plonking melodies from the strings inside the piano, with Shorter at the centre as the quiet but authoritative captain, with smooth transitions from composed to the longer improvised sections.

The last number saw the appearance of the 10-piece wind LutosAir Ensemble (comprised of musicians from the National Forum of Music Wrocław Philharmonic). “The Unfolding”, which had its world premiere at the Jazztopad Festival in Wrocław, revealed Shorter’s compositional ideas to be as fertile as ever. It included variants of many of the scales and favoured chords we had heard improvised and tested to their limits earlier in the evening, but more majestic and with added colour. As one of the few throwbacks to the glory years of modern jazz, the august presence of Shorter was a suitable climax to the EFG London Jazz Festival, which, as ever, has proved those doubting the sheer inventiveness and creativity of the current jazz scene wrong.


Shorter has digested Bartók and Ravel as well as Thelonius Monk and the blues to provide thrillingly new music


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


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