Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wayne Shorter - Atlantis (1985) (aac, 256kbps)

Starting in the mid-60's, Wayne Shorter became a prolific solo artist. He had won a lot of recognition and success as the sax-man and musical director for the beloved Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. I have always thought that Shorter's stint with Blakey (how about 18 recordings in five years!?!) was exactly the place to start if you wanted to introduce a music fan to the broad concept of jazz. Thanks in large part to Shorter's vast technical ability and passionate performances, this music (to my ears, anyway) is jazz. It's all here - bop, and big band, to fusion and rock 'n' roll. I can hear the whole gamut in those Messengers records. Get 'Ugetsu' and tell me if you think I'm wrong.

So Wayne's becoming a big star. It's 1964 and he starts recording all kinds of solo records with big-name side men. He is also asked to join the second great Miles Davis Quintet - taking over the assignment previously held by John Coltrane.

In 1967, two things happen that change the landscape of jazz and, indeed all music. Coltrane dies at the age of 40 and Miles Davis introduces an electric piano into his combo. Immediately, everyone looks to Shorter to become the new Coltrane. The pressure must have been unbelievable. And all of this is against the background of the Summer of Love, the war in Viet Nam, Jimi Hendrix and political and cultural upheaval. Miles goes supersonic with Bitches Brew and Shorter's solo albums become very improvised and edgy.

But there's something missing. When I listen to these records (Schizophrenia, Super Nova and Moto Grosso Feio), I hear a passionate search, but it doesn't quite come together. Even the album titles tell you that something strange is going on with this artist! I think it very likely that one day I will feel differently, but, to a certain extent, the proof is in the pudding. Unlike Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, John McLaughlin, Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock and so many others, Shorter did not go right out and set the world on fire with his post-Miles solo career.

Instead, he partnered up with Zawinul for Weather Report and spent the next fifteen years in one of the greatest bands of all time. The story of Weather Report should be told another day, but for now, suffice to say, this collaboration was a high-water mark for all parties involved. Creative freedom and commercial success.

Which brings us to the solo records from after Weather Report, the first of which is posted here. This is roughly classified as 'contemporary jazz', whatever that is, but the more important aspect is the new voice that is emerging. While the production may sound a bit dated, the level of complexity in the composition and arrangement is insane. the improvs are carved out of a sonic landscape that gets more and more detailed with every listen. this music is rich and dense. It keeps changing, and, for a kid raised on rock 'n' roll, it was very difficult to get my head around. This is not easy listening. It's harder than opera.

But it marks a new beginning for one of the greatest and most under-appreciated artists in the history of American music. These strange solo albums - complete with their guitars, synths and drum machines - provide the compositions for so much of what Shorter does now. At 75 years of age, he is leading his acoustic (sax, piano, drums bass), 'post-bop' quartet around the planet, exploring (always exploring) new sounds and directions. Even now, as ever, he is at the top of his game. This record marks a beginning, of sorts, where a great part of that climb began.

  1. Endangered Species" - 4:47
  2. "The Three Marias" - 5:48
  3. "The Last Silk Hat" - 5:25
  4. "When You Dream" - 4:28
  5. "Who Goes There!" - 5:29
  6. "Atlantis" - 4:34
  7. "Shere Khan, the Tiger" - 2:15
  8. "Criancas" - 3:40
  9. "On the Eve of Departure" - 5:55
The link is in the comments.

1 comment:

MPomy said...