Monday, May 25, 2009

Wayne Shorter at Montreux

Wayne Shorter
Live at Montreux 1996
Eagle Rock Entertainment

Wayne Shorter is jazz history. Since coming to prominence in the 1960’s, he has either led or been a vital member of the groups which defined their respected eras. Arguably second only to fellow tenor titan Sonny Rollins as the top drawing concert artist in jazz, Shorter achieved both critical acclaim and broad popularity (certainly by jazz standards), ensuring a large and appreciative audience for his 1996 Montreux Jazz Festival concert, which was recently released as part of the Live at Montreux DVD series.

As the one-time music director for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the tenor foil in Miles Davis so-called “Second Great Quintet,” Shorter initially made his name during the Hardbop period. His fame exploded during the fusion years as a key member of the jazz-rock super-group Weather Report. Currently, he leads his own acoustic quintet, featuring innovative younger sidemen, like drummer Brian Blade. However, his 1996 quintet was a more transitional group, bridging Shorter’s fusion and advanced post-bop periods.

A bit of that pop-influence can be heard in the synthesizer opening to “On the Milky Way Express,” but the tenor sound is pure Shorter. Weather Report alumnus Alphonso Johnson also brings a funky groove on electric bass, but the tune retains a straight-ahead mainstream jazz spirit, with keyboard-player Jim Beard largely sticking to the acoustic piano.

If not a classic Shorter ensemble, the ’96 group was an intriguing combo. Shorter had appeared on Beard’s Song of the Sun, an interesting CD/video project recorded for Creed Taylor in the waning years of the CTI label. Equally adept on keyboards and piano, he contributes some pithy acoustic solo statements and adds some effective colors on the synthesizer. Guitarist David Gilmore (not to be confused with Pink Floyd’s Gilmour) also brings a distinctly rock-influenced sound to the quintet, nicely showcased on “At the Fair.”

While Shorter briefly introduces “Fair’s” catchy vamp with the soprano, he features it throughout the explicitly jazz-rock (emphasis on rock) “Over Shadow Hill Way,” highlighted by blistering work from Gilmore and a power drum solo Rodney Holmes. Shorter also concludes the set with the soprano on the short but insistent “Endanger Species.”

While much of Shorter’s 1996 set sounds as appropriate for a stadium show as a jazz fest, several performances from his prior Montreux appearances are included as bonus tracks that might actually appeal more to his considerable acoustic fan-base. Playing with Herbie Hancock, his colleague from the Davis Quintet and former label-mate from the Blue Note glory years, Shorter dominates their robust rendition of his classic “Footprints.” Hancock and bassist Stanley Clarke then go electric for another take on “Milky Way,” which makes interesting comparative listening.

Perhaps the highlight of the bonus program (and even the DVD) is a show-stopping version of “Pinocchio,” playfully introduced by Shorter’s Disney-inspired quotations. Part of a 1992 Miles Davis tribute program reuniting Shorter and Hancock with Quintet bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, the playing is consistently inspired throughout.

Much like his former boss Miles Davis, Shorter has always been in the thick of jazz’s latest developments. Now an elder statesman of the music, the 1996 Montreux set offers a nice opportunity to hear an overlooked period in his storied career.