Jazz great Wayne Shorter recently spoke to the heart of his genre. “The six years I was with Miles (Davis), we never talked about music,” he told National Public Radio in the US. “We never had a rehearsal. How do you rehearse the unknown?”
He’s absolutely right. When done properly, jazz is a boundless medium through which improvisation is allowed to breathe. In fact, it’s encouraged.
Unlike other sonic works, the best jazz lives completely in the moment; its players are given carte blanche to feel the rhythm and see where it takes them.
Shorter’s new album, Without a Net, is full of spontaneity. There’s the random background chatter that layers Flying Down to Rio, and the exasperated “oh my God” on Pegasus, the album’s epic 23-minute centrepiece.
We hear the crowd’s enthusiasm throughout these live songs, and the band’s exuberance when its sound amplifies. These details seem small within the album’s larger context, yet they punctuate the record’s intimate feel.
For almost 80 minutes, the 79-year-old saxophonist controls his quartet while allowing it to explore various melodic terrains. Still, the music remains traditional in its approach and recalls the genre’s golden era. The songs, recorded in Los Angeles and Europe, proceed with an unhinged abandon, yet they never run off course.
So in the truest essence of jazz, Without a Net is a sharp return to the music’s brighter days. Orbits is a repurposed version of the Miles Davis Quintet’s 1967 song of the same name. Shorter played on the original, a sprightly number of quick drum snares and lively piano chords.
Shorter’s version is a bit darker and more methodical: above unsettled piano keys and cascading percussion, he infuses the melody with sporadic horn fills. It all makes for an exceptional recording, the saxophonist’s first since 2005’s Beyond the Sound Barrier.
Here, Shorter is firmly at the helm, yet benevolent enough to play the background when needed. The rhythm has taken him far.
--Marcus J. Moore
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