Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Jazz (We've Got)

The quarterly visits to humble Mississauga by a gentleman who is potentially the best tenor saxophonist ever produced by our fair 'burb, inevitably lead me to rekindle my love of jazz music. This go 'round brought with it a renewed interest in the massive catalogue of Wayne Shorter. While the man is unquestionably one of the most important horn players of the past fifty years, he was always someone I found difficult to feel passionate about; just another in a long line of Miles Davis collaborators who wrote some classic tunes (e.g. "Night Dreamer," "JuJu"), performed on more five-star records than you can count, and continues playing today, somewhat under the radar of most media.

My perceptive friend specifically introduced me to Footprints Live (2002) and Beyond the Sound Barrier (2005), Shorter's latest live albums with a quartet including Brian Blade, Danilo Perez and John Patitucci, and let me be far from the first to say that these are monstrous recordings from what I will argue is one of the best jazz bands assembled since the varied Davis quintets of the 1950s. As a combination of all the elements that make a great band, from individual skill to unbreakable group tightness, intuitive sensitivity to a fearless experimentalist spirit, the current Wayne Shorter Quartet tops everyone else working today. And yes, I have heard the work of Dave Holland's quintet and big band, Keith Jarrett's standards trio, and even Dave Douglas' Charms of the Night Sky group.

Credit is of course due to Shorter as the band's primary composer/arranger and, well, leader. His tunes are so laden with texture and colour as to become almost cinematic, and his chops remain wickedly sharp. But I think what really sets the group apart is the contribution of Brian Blade, who is easily the most versatile drummer working today (the Jim Keltner of his generation?). Blade's playing on the noted recordings is so good as to be indescribable for a lay-person like myself. At the risk of overutilising the term, his playing is just so intuitive, so atuned to the moment that it becomes more than just percussion. It becomes almost melodic, and is matched perfectly to the very rhythmic comping of pianist Danilo Perez.

Enough gushing. Suffice to say these individuals have transcended the boundaries of their own considerable skills and have become a true personification of gestalt.

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