Few musicians have had as much of an impact on jazz at so many levels as three-time Grammy winner Wayne Shorter, who appeared in Lawrence Memorial Chapel on Nov. 2. Shorter’s ensemble consists of Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass, and Brian Blade on drums, with veteran Shorter on tenor and soprano saxophones. Each of these musicians has already made a big impact on the jazz scene in his own right.
With a rhythm section as prodigious as Shorter’s, it is not surprising that the audience heard some inspired music. However, Shorter’s quartet did more than that; they showcased the original sound and style that will influence the jazz scene in the future.
The first thing the audience noticed when the group started playing was how no individual seemed to stand out as a soloist for an extended period.
It was also evident from the start that this was a group of great dynamic contrast and intuitive direction for the music. As a result of this direction, tunes seemed to roll together, providing very few breaks between pieces.
Many members of the audience must not have been expecting this and decided to leave as early as the second break. For those fortunate enough to stick around, the concert kept getting better.
Listening was an experience. The group went from soft whispers to intense louds. Visually, it was interesting to watch drummer Brian Blade’s aggressive mannerisms when the music got really intense, especially since he comes off as really relaxed and quiet in person. It was apparent from the looks on the musicians’ faces that they really loved what they were doing on stage.
Traditionally, in a jazz quartet setting, individuals of the group take turns soloing with varying degrees of interaction with the rhythm section. Shorter’s ensemble took a different approach.
There was only rarely an obvious soloist; instead all four members seemed to be improvising together on more or less equal terms for extended periods of time in a great conversation. This may seem like a difficult task with four people at once, but with such experienced veterans listening so intently, the effect comes across wonderfully.
The concept of bringing the members of the group all on an equal level is not a new one in and of itself, but it mostly only found its place in piano trios. The addition of a horn player brought something new and fresh to the palette.
The group was especially successful because they were free of the limitations of the traditional quartet. Wayne Shorter did not stifle his band’s creativity. Instead, he allowed his musicians to go in whatever direction they wanted. The result was absolutely no disappointment.
Shorter’s first big achievement was with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, a hard swingin’ bop group of which he was a member for five years in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
He then found himself in the legendary Miles Davis Quintet for six years around the late 1960s, a band which may be the most influential to the course of modern jazz. During this time he recorded several albums of his own in addition to performing and composing heavily with the Miles Davis Quintet.
In the 1970s, Shorter split off to form his own jazz/rock group, Weather Report, with Joe Zawinul and Miroslav Vitous. This band probably brought Shorter the most fame, but all three bands had their own unique impact on jazz.
Shorter, now almost 70 years old, is still cutting albums as progressive as ever.