Tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter (1933) had his breakthrough with
Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1959-64), for which he composed
Chess Players (march 1960) and Lester Left Town (november 1959) on The Big Beat (1960),
Children of the Night (august 1961) on Mosaic (1961),
Reincarnation Blues (november 1961) on Buhaina's Delight (1962)
This Is For Albert and Sweet 'N' Sour on Caravan (october 1962),
One by One (june 1963), Ping-Pong (february 1961) and On the Ginza (june 1963) on Ugetsu (1963),
Free For All (february 1964) on Free For All,
Mr Jin (april 1964) on Indestructible.
His tenor saxophone had a unique sound and his compositions had a unique
Shorter's compositions for his own albums were, instead, rudimentary at best. Influenced by the hard bop played by Blakey, Shorter's first solo sessions, Blues A la Carte (november 1959), also known as Introducing, were recorded by a quintet with Lee Morgan on trumpet, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums, while Second Genesis (october 1960) featured pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Bob Cranshaw and Blakey in person, and Wayning Moments (november 1961) a quintet with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet.
He also worked for Freddie Hubbard (1962-63) and Lee Morgan (1964-67).
He was hired by Miles Davis (1964-70) to work on Davis' new ideas, that
eventually led to the invention of fusion jazz.
Shorter was crucial for Davis' project. Not only did his saxophone sculpt
much of the sound, but his compositions were among the most relevant of this
phase of Davis' career:
E.S.P. and Iris on E.S.P. (january 1965),
Orbits, Footprints and Dolores on Miles Smiles (october 1966),
Prince of Darkness, Masqualero and Limbo on Sorcerer (may 1967),
Nefertiti and Fall on Nefertiti (june 1967),
Paraphernalia on Miles in the Sky (1968),
Sanctuary on Bitches Brew (1969),
Great Expectations on Big Fun (1970).
These compositions were so important, and so carefully crafted by the
saxophonist, that Shorter may have been the real brain of much of Davis' music,
Davis being merely the trumpet player.
Shorter was a subtle and sophisticated composer who violated the rules of
jazz music by indulging in ethereal melodies, slow tempos and sustained tones.
In parallel, Shorter's own albums coined an oneiric, pensive and personal sound that borrowed from John Coltrane (mainly), Art Blakey and Miles Davis while pointing towards the jazz-rock revolution.
Lee Morgan on trumpet, McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Elvin Jones on drums (Jones and Tyner being both members of the Coltrane quartet) helped him sculpt the lyrical, waltzing Night Dreamer, the romantic ballad Virgo, and the sophisticated harmonies of Black Nile and Armageddon on Night Dreamer (april 1964).
The playing was more cohesive (especially in JuJu) and the compositions were more expressive (particularly Yes or No) on Juju (august 1964), recorded with the same rhythm section but without Morgan, but Shorter
boldly abandoned the Coltrane paradigm on Speak No Evil (december 1964).
Freddie Hubbard on horns, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Jones
on drums helped him find an unlikely balance of hard bop, modal jazz and
free jazz while increasing the melodic intensity. The playing was not
revolutionary at all, but Witch Hunt and Speak No Evil showed
his compositional genius, and the album
closing with two tendere ballads, Infant Eyes (perhaps the most memorable
of his career) and Wild Flower,
that heralded a new era of emotions in jazz music.
The Soothsayer (march 1965) marked the return of Reggie Workman on bass, the replacement of Jones with Tony Williams on drums, and the addition of alto saxophonist James Spulding next to Hubbard and Shorter. Now that Jones was gone, Tyner became more than ever the anchor of Shorter's sound. The three horns and the piano offered the composer a chance to experiment more complex structures (The Soothsayer, Lost, The Big Push).
After the subdued Et Cetera (june 1965), released only in 1980 and also known as The Collector, a quartet session with Hancock, Chambers and bassist Cecil McBee that featured the eleven-minute Indian Song,
Shorter added trombonist Grachan Moncur to the horn section of himself, Hubbard and Spaulding and to the rhythm section of Hancock, Carter and Chambers for
The All Seeing Eye (october 1965). The lush instrumental textures obscured
Shorter's melodic flair and brought out the most brooding and psychological
elements of his music, especially in The All Seeing Eye, Genesis and Mephistopheles. This album, de facto, ended Shorter's long flirtation
with Coltrane's music.
After that experimental tour de force, Shorters returned to a humbler format (a quartet with Hancock, Workman and Chambers) and a simpler form of music (Footprints, Adam's Apple, Chief Crazy Horse) for Adams' Apple (february 1966).
The sextet of Schizophrenia (march 1967), featuring Spaulding, trombonist Curtis Fuller and the rhythm section of Hancock, Carter and Chambers,
continued to plow the border between bop tradition and free-jazz avantgarde
in pieces such as Tom Thumb. The sophistication of the arrangements
was rapidly becoming the main raison d'etre of Shorters' music.
All in all, his compositional skills were still better served in Davis'
recordings than in Shorters' own recordings.
He seemed to acknowledge that much by veering sharply towards Davis' fusion
sound on Super Nova (august 1969), employing stars of the genre such
as electric guitarists John McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock,
Chick Corea, bassist Miroslav Vitous, drummer Jack DeJohnette, etc.
and setting new standards of call-and-response between solo and accompaniment
in the rubato Capricorn.
Moto Grosso Feio (april 1970), only released in 1974, added Dave Holland to McLaughlin, Vitous, Carter and Corea and at least tried to improve on the stereotype with the lengthy Moto Grosso Feio and Iska, but
Odyssey of Iskra (august 1970), performed by an octet with vibraphone, guitar, two basses, three percussionists, proved that Shorter was after mere
In the meantime, Shorter also recorded with McCoy Tyner (1968-70).
In 1970 Shorter and Joe Zawinul left Davis to form Weather Report.
Shorter still recorded an album of mediocre latin-jazz ballads,
Native Dancer (september 1974), with
Brazilian vocalist Milton Nascimento and percussionist Airto Moreira,
and collaborated with singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell (1977-2002),
but his creative energy was clearly reserved for the band.
Shorter left Weather Report in 1985, but his new solo albums (heavily
influenced by Weather Report's electronic sound) were consistently
Phantom Navigator (1986),
Joy Ryder (1988).
After a long hiatus, Shorter recorded High Life (1994), a collaboration with keyboardist Rachel Z, and
1+1 (1997), a collaboration with Herbie Hancock that contained
Aung San Suu Kyi.
In 2000 Shorter formed his first acoustic group, a
quartet featuring pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade.
Footprints Live (july 2001),
Alegria (2003), that added pianist Brad Mehldau, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and percussionist Alex Acuna,
and the live albums Beyond the Sound Barrier (april 2004) and
Without A Net (december 2011).
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