From the NEW YORK TIMES - ARTS section - March 23, 2003, Sunday
Wayne Shorter: The Inner Roadhouse Musician
By BEN RATLIFF
At 69, Wayne Shorter is jazz's all-around genius, matchless in his field as a composer, utterly original as an improviser.

But until three and a half years ago, when he began thrilling audiences again with his new acoustic quartet — Mr. Shorter on saxophone, Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums — he was generating a lot of disappointment. Mr. Shorter's best ideas, both as a composer and an improviser, are basically small, elegant and disquieting, and through the 1970's and 80's they came encased in unwieldy packages, albums and bands that were full of flash and immediately dated electronics. And in the 1990's he often looked lost, lacking purpose; one of the defining poses in jazz from that period would have to be Mr. Shorter, onstage, frowning at his soprano saxophone as he struggled to bring it into tune.
The first document of his new acoustic band was "Footprints Live!” culled from recordings made while the group was on tour; it was one of the best records of last year, full of enormously committed group interplay. The quartet sounds free and open, with the suggestion of many possible options for rhythm and harmony at any time; it's opposite in that respect to the music Mr. Shorter had been making through the two preceding decades.

Now the follow-up is "Alegría" (Verve), Mr. Shorter's first studio album in eight years; and if his quartet's telepathic performances still ring in your ears, the album can sound overthought. The old Shorter tunes rearranged for the album, with strings and brass, may be radical revisions but aren't necessarily any better than the small-group originals. And yet the album is so much better than what we had feared, having heard for the last eight years that Mr. Shorter was working on some bedeviling large-scale project. As it happens, he has also given himself plenty of space to play the saxophone with sparse accompaniment; he and his producer, Robert Sadin, understand his worth as a player.

The reason nobody lost hope for Mr. Shorter through the long haul was that he proved himself through the 1960's — on his own albums, as well as with the Miles Davis quintet of that period — to be one of the freshest saxophonists in jazz, as well as possibly its best small-group composer ever. Compositions like "Fall", "Masqualero", "Footprints", "Fee Fi Fo Fum" and "Nefertiti" sounded spooky, magicked-up: the melodies were epigrammatic, simple but with complex chord changes behind them. They were curiously nonidiomatic, and they led him, as well as the many others who played them, to strange improvisational places; it was good for jazz that they became standard repertory, and I've also heard plenty of rock musicians describe his 1960's Blue Note albums as priceless lessons.

After the 60's, Mr. Shorter took part in jazz-fusion at its most lavish, and though he may be a master of small-group recording, in no way is he tied to its conventions. On "Alegría" he mixes up the basic quartet setup with grander plans. Not only does he expand and contract his ensemble from track to track to meet his ends; he also fiddles with the presentation of the saxophone. In the middle of "Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5," his reworking of the popular Villa-Lobos piece, he steps up to solo on tenor, playing arpeggio patterns; after a modulation, there are two Waynes, pecking at high notes, sometimes landing on the same ones, sometimes sliding into hoarse tone-clashes. Likewise, he layers three versions of himself to play the theme of "Sacajawea". In "Angola", soloing through most of the piece, he begins on tenor and switches to soprano halfway through as the choruses keep cycling on.

A tiresome element of Mr. Shorter's fusion years was his saxophone sound: for all its famous vulnerability, his soprano playing often came off as listless and drippy. No more: back on tenor saxophone for most of "Alegría", he sounds recharged and positively weird, in the best possible way. In "Orbits," after an orchestral sequence, the band narrows down to the quartet, and Mr. Shorter stretches out for three minutes through long, frayed notes, getting dirty; he whoops and hollers through the horn like the roadhouse musician nobody has ever accused him of being.

This album has been talked about for what seems like ages, but there's not much truly new composition here — only "Sacajawea", the boogaloo that opens the disc. "Orbits", originally recorded with Miles Davis's Quintet in 1966 on "Miles Smiles", was rearranged for chamber orchestra in 1998 for a Lincoln Center concert and is presented in that form here; "Angola" was expanded into long meter for the same concert. And the flamenco piece "Vendiendo Alegría" had its debut at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September 2000. Beyond that, there's a short, improvised tenor-and-drums duet called "Interlude"; two public-domain pieces, "She Moves Through the Fair" and "12th Century Carol"; the "Villa-Lobos"; a curious reworking of Leroy Anderson's ersatz-Latin number from the 1940's, "Serenata"; and "Capricorn", the most reworked of Shorter's older pieces here.

Clearly, there's been a long gestation period — perhaps, for a musician with such off-the-cuff impulses, it has been far too long. But if the project has gotten Mr. Shorter's juices flowing to do more, and soon, it will have been worth it.  


From the NEW YORK TIMES –archives Arts and Leisure Desk | May 19, 2002, Sunday
MUSIC; Wayne Shorter, Mysterious And Evergreen
By BEN RATLIFF (NYT) 378 words
Late Edition - Final, Section 2, Page 31, Column 1

ABSTRACT - Ben Ratliff reviews new album by jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter and his quartet; photo (M) Last year's tour by Wayne Shorter's new quartet -- which has resulted in a live album -- inspired a level of attentive fandom that hasn't been seen much in jazz since the days of Miles and Coltrane.

The devoted knew Mr. Shorter's itinerary. They knew that his performances were promising but frustrating in New York, excellent in Montreal later that week and sublime in Marseille, France, a month later. Based on the reputation of his work with Miles Davis in the 1960's and on his own acoustic-jazz records of the same time, the saxophonist and composer Mr. Shorter has remained one of the few last deities in jazz -- a mysterious figure who helped create an all-important new language.


From the NEW YORK TIMES –archives New Jersey Weekly Desk | February 24, 2002, Sunday
JERSEY FOOTLIGHTS
By Margo Nash (NYT) 827 words
Late Edition - Final, Section 14NJ, Page 9, Column 1

ABSTRACT - Saxophonist Wayne Shorter will return to his hometown of Newark, NJ, with his quartet, for performance at New Jersey Performing Arts Center; photo (S)
Coming Home

It has been a long time since the saxophonist Wayne Shorter, below, has been in his hometown of Newark. The last time was in 1959, when he played at the long-gone Sugar Hill club. But on Saturday Mr. Shorter will be blowing his horn with his quartet at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, not far from where he grew up, on South Street.

Mr. Shorter attended Arts High School where he majored in art. A radio program changed his life, he said.


From the NEW YORK TIMES –archives ARTS & IDEAS/CULTURAL DESK June 30, 2001, Saturday
JVC JAZZ FESTIVAL REVIEW; At 67, Inspiring a Quest for Perfection
By BEN RATLIFF

Wayne Shorter could be the one remaining figure in jazz for whom one never gives up raised expectations, the last of the demigod jazz sphinxes. But why should it be he? If it's for his involvement in the 1960's Miles Davis quintet, he isn't the sole remaining musician from that group. It's not because he always stayed pure, in some ghastly sense of jazz conservationism: he's had his tricky moments with jazz-fusion and long ago gave up New York for Los Angeles.

Part of it is his silence, the long gaps between albums that suggest artist-at-work. But a much larger part of it is the power of his writing. And if it really is his compositions that drive the incredible wave of support, nostalgia, empathy and interest among hardcore jazz fans for Mr. Shorter's projects, then perhaps we ought to stop the hedging and qualifying and call him the greatest living composer of jazz. Others have written on a more impressive scale: Muhal Richard Abrams, Wynton Marsalis, and George Russell. But within the small-group language of common practice, it is Mr. Shorter whose pieces weather better through time.

And yet Mr. Shorter, now 67, has never really exploited his high status as a composer for acoustic small-group jazz. The first tour of his new quartet, which made a stop at Avery Fisher Hall on Thursday night during the JVC Jazz Festival, is the first tour he's ever made leading an acoustic band. The concert, surprisingly brief, was a five-song retrospective; the band is touring a lot this summer, and it's exciting to ponder an important repertory finally made sense of, something that happens to too few living jazz musicians.

The musicians in the band -- Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass, Brian Blade on drums, all of them pretty close to the top of their field on their respective instruments -- seemed scarily committed to the opportunity of making a perfect band for Mr. Shorter, almost ready to die for it. What they're playing, in a sense, is the validation of their years of craft and struggle, given that they came into their professional years in the 1980's and 90's, when the template of the 60's Davis quintet -- its marriage of limber improvising and changeable form, its accommodation of virtuosity and antivirtuosity -- seemed more and more relevant.

Playing ''Valse Triste'', ''Chief Crazyhorse'', ''Aung San Suu Kyi'', ''Masqualero'', ''Atlantis'' and ''Juju'', some of them joined together, the band hardly ever kept a constant rhythm. The tempos and dynamics were in flux, and the musicians were searching for the moments when they could come together, only to let the music collapse and be reconstituted.

Mr. Shorter, on tenor saxophone for all but ''Aung San Suu Kyi'', when he played soprano with rare strength and focus, was a self-effacing bandleader, playing remarkably less than most leaders do. On the other hand, he was playing more than we've come to expect from him: stuttering patterns of notes that every once in a while crested into a mild roar.

The rhythm section expertly built and faded the music around him; it was a lot of pressure for any saxophonist to wear the crown the band was constructing for him. He is not as strong a saxophonist as he used to be, and there were moments where his intonation failed on the tenor, and even a few moments where he seemed a little lost. But his slight frailties complemented his mysteriously runic songs, models of wasteless melody and imaginative harmonic movement. It's unquestionable that he was more engaged than he has seemed in at least the last five years; there's no reason not to expect the best from this band's further work.

Published: 06 - 30 - 2001, Late Edition - Final, Section B, Column 3, Page 15


From the NEW YORK TIMES –archives Arts and Leisure Desk | June 24, 2001, Sunday
MUSIC; He's a Jazz Riddle Wrapped In Self-Made Mystery
By MICHELLE MERCER (NYT) 1467 words
Late Edition - Final, Section 2, Page 28, Column 3

ABSTRACT - Michelle Mercer article on Wayne Shorter, composer and jazz saxophonist who is touring for first time as leader of all-acoustic group; his quartet will make its New York debut when it performs at Avery Fisher Hall as part of JVC Jazz Festival; photo (M) WAYNE SHORTER was rehearsing an updated version of ''Water Babies,'' one of his better-known works, for a concert here at the Spoleto Festival. His bandmates wanted to know how he planned to establish the tune's regular rhythm after a loose rubato intro. ''Let's not set it'', he said. ''I'd always rather go for elusiveness than clarification''.

Oracular and penetrating, the statement was characteristic of this composer and saxophonist. At 68, Mr. Shorter is touring for the first time as the leader of an all-acoustic group. His quartet -- with the pianist Danilo Perez, the bassist John Patitucci and the drummer Brian Blade -- opened its tour, which will include American and European dates, at the Spoleto Festival on June 9. On Thursday it will make its New York debut when it performs at Avery Fisher Hall as part of the JVC Jazz Festival.


From the NEW YORK TIMES –archives Westchester Weekly Desk | March 5, 2000, Sunday
In Sleepy Hollow, Musician Finds Focus
By THOMAS STAUDTER (NYT) 1137 words
Late Edition - Final, Section 14WC, Page 8, Column 3

ABSTRACT - Joshua Redman, one of jazz world's premier saxophonists, says his move from Manhattan apartment to house in Sleepy Hollow, NY, has benefited his music, giving him space and privacy to practice and compose; Redman was named artistic director for this year's San Francisco Jazz Festival, which he will open with concert celebrating career of fellow saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter; photos (M) WHEN Joshua Redman, one of the jazz world's premier saxophonists, moved here from Manhattan, it was a change, he said, ''I never thought I'd be able to deal with.

''When we moved out here, I initially figured I would have to go into Manhattan every other day or I was going to die. Now, I'm probably in the city just once a week.''

 

From the NEW YORK TIMES –archives THE ARTS/CULTURAL DESK June 22, 1999, Tuesday 
JAZZ FESTIVAL REVIEW; Collaboration Of Hancock And Shorter
By BEN RATLIFF

The saxophonist Wayne Shorter and the pianist Herbie Hancock have occasionally performed as a duo over the last two years since making an album together called ''1+1'' (Verve). The record of piano and soprano-saxophone duets is informal and casually intriguing; their JVC Jazz Festival concert on Friday night at Carnegie Hall felt listless.

The point of the collaboration is for these two master improvisers, partners in Miles Davis's great 1960's quintet, to abandon form and just search, with the merest suggestion of melody as guide. Jazz with this degree of freedom from written material lives or dies on the conviction with which it's played, and their disconnection from the music was palpable on Friday night. When these musician changed keys, dropped out of tempo or played clashing notes in their series of drowsy laments and fantasias, there was no force behind the gestures; with no sense of aim, the ruptures in narrative seemed like blurry discontinuity rather than a puzzle worth following.

For the first, molasses like half of the performance, Mr. Hancock played tolling piano chords thick with harmony and Mr. Shorter played very few notes at all; he was suffering from an intonation problem that persisted through the set. The set's closing number, Mr. Shorter's ''Footprints'', corrected the situation a bit, beginning with a new melody and working its way to the tune's graceful theme in the middle, with Mr. Shorter injecting some of his best high-note pathos into his saxophone playing. But finally he seemed distracted, falling back on lullaby melodies. The duo played for an hour, but barely got started.

When Mr. Hargrove's band hit its first notes, the crowd awoke with a start. Mr. Hargrove's quintet has a wonderfully direct sound, and Mr. Hargrove himself has one of the strongest, most well defined trumpet tones in jazz, nearly spotless but with enough width to lend it emphasis. He likes to blast, and there's a nice contrast to the alto saxophonist Sherman Irby, a tickler with a soft tone and a subtle vibrato who stands beside him in the group's front line. The problem is material. It's a band that closely follows the model of 1960's and 70's hard-bop groups.

Its tunes, built of punched-out, harmonized melodies between trumpet and saxophone, tend to become indistinct after you've heard a few of them: some are doleful; some have a go-go backbeat. There's nothing wrong with using lessons of the past, but on Friday the band wasn't doing much to invent form within the music, and the borrowed identity of the music felt locked in from beginning to end.

Published: 06 - 22 - 1999, Late Edition - Final, Section E, Column 6, Page 5


From the NEW YORK TIMES –archives ARTS & IDEAS/CULTURAL DESK April 25, 1998, Saturday
JAZZ REVIEW; Wayne Shorter's Musical Priority: Harmony
By PETER WATROUS

Wayne Shorter's eagerly awaited concert at Alice Tully Hall on Thursday night, part of Jazz at Lincoln Center, showed how difficult genius can be. Mr. Shorter, one of the most influential jazz musicians of the last 35 years, has left an immense impression on jazz, both as a saxophonist and a composer. Some musicians bring technical innovations to the music; Mr. Shorter changed the emotional climate by bringing a new melancholic optimism that jazz had never heard.

And Mr. Shorter is ambitious. Since the late 1960's he has experimented with Brazilian music and American popular music (he is a founder of the hugely influential fusion group Weather Report) with string orchestras and more. There has always been a tension between the shape and sound of his compositions and the means he chooses to express them. He hasn't always been successful, and in his search for a territory between jazz and popular and classical music, he has produced works that musicians often admire but audiences don't take to. Mr. Shorter's newer work seems more concerned with harmony than rhythm.

That tension showed up during the second half of the concert, when Mr. Shorter enlisted a chamber orchestra to help him with his compositions. One of the last tunes he played, ''High Life'', was telling: it started out with some loosely improvised playing by Mr. Shorter and his rhythm section. The beginning had so much balance and empathy; it could have lasted all night. Then the strings came in, squashing the improvisation, and suddenly what had been fluid became static. Mr. Shorter and the rhythm section peeked out from behind the strings, and again the music surged with pliability, with the possibility of improvisation.

The second half began with ''Angola'', and Mr. Shorter turned in a solo on soprano saxophone backed by the rhythm section that was lovely; Mr. Shorter is one of the great saxophonists in jazz. He changed to tenor saxophone, and started out declaiming melodies, then sent lines flying. On ''Children of the Night'', the bassist Christian McBride took up the electric bass and things fell apart, with the orchestra sounding like a complicated version of television sound track music; the rhythm section never quite grooved over what was a jazz funk bass line.

Mr. Shorter also played a new piece, ''Dramatis Personae'', that used big, broad chords and trills in the strings. Like the other orchestral pieces, it stood alone, a mixture of classical music, almost imagined through Hollywood, jazz and pop music. It's distinct.

The first half featured Mr. Shorter and a small group, and that never quite took off either. Mr. Shorter worked with a small, shifting band that at times included Ryan Kisor on trumpet, Jim Beard and Eric Reed on piano, David Gilmore on guitar, Mr. McBride on bass, Herlin Riley on drums and Mino Cinelu on percussion. Mr. Shorter ended the first half with a duet with Mr. Reed, ''Meridianne: A Wood Sylph'', and it was as gracious as music gets. Mr. Shorter played the melody on soprano saxophone, improvised more melodies and made a case for intimacy and simplicity as his strengths. Everything else was promise, not quite fulfilled. (Mr. Shorter and his group will perform again tonight.)

Published: 04 - 25 - 1998, Late Edition - Final, Section B, Column 1, Page 15

 


From the NEW YORK TIMES –archives The Arts/Cultural Desk | April 22, 1998, Wednesday
With This Composer, The Work Is Never Done
By BEN RATLIFF (NYT) 1414 words
Late Edition - Final, Section E, Page 1, Column 4

ABSTRACT - Interview with saxophonist-composer Wayne Shorter, who is appearing with members of Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; photo (M) The last time the saxophonist Wayne Shorter performed in the New York metropolitan area was in a duet concert with the pianist Herbie Hancock last October in Morristown, N.J. When they took the stage, they began a kind of floating-in-space, free-associating dialogue, much of which made sense only to them. Mr. Hancock started:

''Is this very near to where you were born?''


 From the NEW YORK TIMES –archives CULTURAL DESK July 10, 1997, Thursday
Two Alone, Freed From Intrusions
By BEN RATLIFF

Herbie Hancock's and Wayne Shorter's ''1+1'' (Verve) is an album eagerly awaited by the jazz world, especially those whose idea of jazz was molded forever by the moody, elastic sound of Miles Davis's 1960's quintet. It is a duo recording by a pianist and saxophonist who are two of the greatest living jazz musicians, both members of that groundbreaking Davis group; they are also two of the great jazz composers, and among the most significant templates in the music's history. Paced mostly at creeping tempos, but peppered with short blastoffs, their collaboration feels spontaneous and yet nearly dangerously lush; it is an emotional wringer.

The long, slow themes, most new and a few old -- three by Mr. Shorter, three by Mr. Hancock, three jointly composed, and one by the winner of last year's Thelonious Monk Institute composition prize -- are played like free-floating suggestions, so altered from moment to moment that their melodic curves become difficult to grasp; they are expanded to super-size so that you sometimes can't see the organism for the molecules. They begin with concise innocence -- Mr. Shorter's ''Meridianne: A Wood Sylph'' sounds partly inspired by Satie's ''Gymnopedies'' -- and in an expressionistic reprise of Mr. Shorter's ''Diana'' from his 1975 album ''Native Dancer'' then lead up to soaring heights of experience.

It is a pared-down recording with no electronic tricks or intrusions, and the great thrill is to hear them free from the ponderous group concepts both have worked with in recent years. Mr. Shorter, who plays only the soprano saxophone on the album, often lands upon a pair of notes, an interval, which he flips, raises, turns this way and that, as if trying to parse the smallest particle. The open space allows us to hear his rounded tone in its full glory; his phrases, careful calligraphic strokes, sometimes build up momentarily to a rougher sound, nearly a screech, creating tiny moments of agitation. And Mr. Hancock plays piano in a romantic, sensitive style, with long sustained notes, sudden dramatic cutaways, and minute attention to harmony.

The album is a committed performance, and for both musicians a return to form.

Published: 07 - 10 - 1997, Late Edition - Final, Section C, Column 6, Page 12

 

 

SUMMARY

ARTS / MUSIC | March 23, 2003    
Wayne Shorter: The Inner Roadhouse Musician
By BEN RATLIFF   (NYT)   News  

ARTS AND LEISURE DESK | May 19, 2002, Sunday   $
MUSIC; Wayne Shorter, Mysterious And Evergreen
By BEN RATLIFF   (NYT)     378 words

NEW JERSEY WEEKLY DESK | February 24, 2002, Sunday   $
JERSEY FOOTLIGHTS
By Margo Nash   (NYT)     827 words

ARTS & IDEAS/CULTURAL DESK | June 30, 2001, Saturday    
JVC JAZZ FESTIVAL REVIEW; At 67, Inspiring a Quest for Perfection
By BEN RATLIFF   (NYT)   Review   707 words

ARTS AND LEISURE DESK | June 24, 2001, Sunday   $
MUSIC; He's a Jazz Riddle Wrapped In Self-Made Mystery
By MICHELLE MERCER   (NYT)     1467 words

WESTCHESTER WEEKLY DESK | March 5, 2000, Sunday   $
In Sleepy Hollow, Musician Finds Focus
By THOMAS STAUDTER   (NYT)     1137 words

THE ARTS/CULTURAL DESK | June 22, 1999, Tuesday    
JAZZ FESTIVAL REVIEW; Collaboration Of Hancock And Shorter
By BEN RATLIFF   (NYT)   Review   474 words

ARTS & IDEAS/CULTURAL DESK | April 25, 1998, Saturday    
JAZZ REVIEW; Wayne Shorter's Musical Priority: Harmony
By PETER WATROUS   (NYT)   Review   575 words

THE ARTS/CULTURAL DESK | April 22, 1998, Wednesday   $
With This Composer, The Work Is Never Done
By BEN RATLIFF   (NYT)   Biography   1414 words

CULTURAL DESK | July 10, 1997, Thursday    
Two Alone, Freed From Intrusions
By BEN RATLIFF   (NYT)   Review   402 words