Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Newark Flash... Wayne Shorter...



The Newark Flash... Wayne Shorter...

“A week before I went into the Army I went to the Cafe Bohemia to hear music, I said, for the last time in my life. I was standing at the bar having a cognac and I had my draft notice in my back pocket. That’s when I met Max Roach. He said, 'You’re the kid from Newark, huh? You’re The Flash.' And he asked me to sit in.”

In 1964 Shorter left Art Blakey and joined Miles Davis. His arranging and writing for the Jazz Messengers had played a major contribution in lifting that incarnation of Blakey's ongoing jazz school into the realms of legendary. He would go on in his new band to further hone his playing skills – and similarly contribute a large amount of material that would help to define one of the great Davis line-ups. He also recorded a string of classic albums under his own name for Blue Note during this period....

... one of which was 'Juju.' My first selection is the title track, a quartet performance with three members of the classic Coltrane band: McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Elvin Jones. A good example of Shorter's compositional strategies – simple tune over chordal vamp that goes into a section with more complicated harmony. The initial chord vamp is based on an augmented seventh, just to spice things up, with the implications of whole tone scales. Although this album is noticeably under the influence of Coltrane, whom he admired greatly, (and maybe the presence of Coltrane's sidemen bent him further in the direction of the master?)his compositional splicing of modal strategies with more unconventional harmonies indicates his own original direction, one that would flirt with freer forms but would have at least one foot back in the more conventional jazz structures. Where Coltrane evolved rapidly away from conventional harmony through open-ended modality to finally going boldly beyond the beyond, Shorter's use of albeit unusual harmonies in tandem with the wider spaces of modality ensures more formal constraint and ensemble unity. A more structured freedom...

'Juju' opens on brief piano over a swinging ¾ before Shorter states the theme. Tyner takes the first solo, expansive and assured, powered along by Jones. Shorter enters, sounding, as already mentioned, very Coltraneish with a thick, well hewn tone that becomes more hoarsely searching towards the end. Although he uses more space than would be found in Coltrane's restless, unrelenting turbulence, different angles of attack... Jones again delivers a master class in prodding, driving accompaniment and in his short solo, skewering slivers of cymbals cutting through the deeper tonalities of his drums. Ending after the reprised theme on a pounding repeated chord vamp with flurries of tenor... Given the strong Coltrane influences here, it is interesting to mark the divergences that demonstrate Shorter's individual stamp on form and improvisation.

'Chief Crazy Horse' is from a 1966 date, again introduced by piano, a loping vamp. Another deceptively simple Shorter theme that has hidden harmonic depths. A relatively short questing solo by the tenor, followed by a pummelling two-fisted Hancock solo that builds into a dense block-chorded passage before a right hand shimmering run lightly splashes treble light back into the palette. Followed by some rippling solo drums from Chambers. Theme restated and another vamp-out, Shorter almost quizzical here to the fade. The pivot between this and the previous track is Workman, ensuring a kind of continuity between the Coltrane and Davis camps – Miles represented here by Hancock, with the drummer the odd man out. Plotting all these trajectories of influence is a fascinating game... as is noting what finally came out on top – and what disappeared - to be stumbled over years later... as on the last selection, taken from a relatively obscure album recorded in psychedelic '69...

Shorter was and is, of course, one of the main players in the game – during his tenure with Miles he performed on 'In a Silent Way' and 'Bitches Brew' and very soon after the latter sessions were finished recorded 'Super Nova' which can be seen as an almost immediate reaction to some of the questions being posed by Miles with regard to electricity and rock/funk influences ... Julian Cope has an interesting and typically idiosyncratic review of the album here... Interestingly, other have dissed it mightily... Shorter of course became a big wheel in fusion when he co-founded Weather Report with that other Davis alumni Joe Zawinul – who wrote 'In a Silent Way' – and also took on board the bass player and percussionist on this session, Vitous and Airto Moreira. 'Super Nova,' however, indicates some other directions that might have been taken...

Track chosen: 'More than Human.' Introduced by bass, suddenly disrupted by scraping guitars, rattling percussion - an interpellation of pure noise - and Shorter enters on snake-charmer soprano, building quickly into rapid spinning lines – this is almost like free jazz meets proto-fusion, pulse rather than steady rhythm, although the bass carries the stop start vamp in and out of the rackety ensemble. Shorter returns and chopping guitar becomes more prominent, jittering fast strummed chords. This is much more free than 'Bitches Brew' with its long tidal vamps... To my ears I hear a link to the seventies loft-jazz scene, where the impulse of free jazz was often combined with electronic instruments and their rhythmic and timbral implications... Strangely, there is little obvious McLaughlin here – just rather muted chopped rhythm guitars - and the strumming figures sound very like Sharrock. Corea is also billed as drummer(and vibist on other tracks) rather than on piano – a textural ensemble rather than conventional back drop for Shorter to fly the soprano across. Meandering, yet sounding less dated than one would expect...one of the lost highways of psycho-electric jazz that had larger implications of freedom way beyond the rigidities and ring-fencing of the territory that orthodox jazz-fusion accomplished...


Here's a video of Wayne Shorter with the Miles Davis band in 1969...


and with Weather Report

and back in 1959 with the

Jazz Messengers



Wayne Shorter
(Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone); McCoy Tyner (piano); Reggie Workman (bass); Elvin Jones (drums).

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Juju

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Wayne Shorter
(Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone); Herbie Hancock (piano); Reggie Workman (bass); Joe Chambers (drums).

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Chief Crazy Horse

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Wayne Shorter
(Wayne Shorter (soprano saxophone); John McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock (electric guitars); Miroslav Vitous (bass); Chick Corea (drums, vibes); Jack DeJohnette (drums) Airto Moreira (percussion).

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More than Human

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8 comments:

Peter said...

you've summed up shorter pretty well, i think. and he's quite a slippery one. i love 'super nova'. 'moto grosso feio' is on similar lines; no sharrock, but dave holland on guitar, ron carter on cello and corea on marimba and drums. not out on cd currently though...interesting how shorter seemed to gradually erase himself from weather report - you could probably count the entire number of notes he plays on some of the later wr albums on a reasonably sized abacus. shame really, because that means pastorious and zawinul get to play more...:-(

Rod... said...

- blogger seems to have lost my comments so I'll try again! Weather Report - sort of liked them at first, then became indifferent - then forgot about them. Something rather bland about them - Super Nova is much more interesting because it's messier... more Shorter tomorrow, I think...

Peter said...

mysterious traveller's the last one i can listen to all the way through without nausea. 'live in tokyo' covers similar territory to super nova in a way. it's surprisingly vicious (and viscous too, come to think of it!)

godoggo said...

I love the first track from "I Sing the Body Electric," "Unknown Soldier," which starts and ends with lovely Gil Evans-like orchestrations and has some ferocious free jazz in between, perfectly mixing acoustic instruments with electronic effects. The material on side 2 is in "Live in Tokyo," right?

And I have to defend Pastorious. He did a lot of wonderful music as a sideman with Albert Mangelsdorff, Pat Metheny, Jonie Mitchell, and as a leader, but not so much with WP, though I think I like them better than y'all. Come on, Heavy Weather's a beautifully crafted record.

godoggo said...

...and, to clarify, I should say that, yes, I do feel a little silly to "defend" a musician as revered as Jaco; its just that I think that in some circles he wrongly may have an image as a superficial fusion hotshot, and also that he didn't do his best work in the band (that'd be WR, not "WT") with which he was most closely associated, and then, of course, there's the specific comment above.

I also love 'moto grosso feio' although the track that was posted on Destination Out not long ago happened to be my least favorite.

Rod... said...

maybe I should go back and listen to some WR... I remember that I liked 'Sing the body electric' but haven't heard it in a long time... and I take your point about some perceptions of Pastorious who was a marvellous bass player/musician

St Anthony said...

Yes, never had a great deal of time for Weather Report, but haven't really heard enough to wade in with opinions ... what am I saying, that's never stopped me about anything in the past.
'Juju' interesting, though - the spirit of Coltrane, especially with his band in evidence. Yes, a little more space than Coltrane would have afforded.

St Anthony said...

The 'Super Nova' album sounds like a bit of an oddity (hence it's interest for Head Heritage) - a low tech, low budget take of 'Bitches Brew'?
sounds rougher than the B.B. material and lacks the sleekness of W.R. - interesting hearing Sharrock here, wish he'd played more of a part in Miles' B.B. work, and after. (more of a Sharrock vibe here, guitar-wise, than McKaughlin)
Maybe the quirk of having some of the the musician tackling other instruments gives it its verite atmosphere. Fascinating record, though.