|Wayne Shorter. Manchester 1989
Photo credit: William Ellis. All Rights Reserved
Wayne Shorter Quartet/Phronesis
(Barbican, 8th October. Review by Chris Parker)
One of the unspoken rules of jazz promotion (concerts by Miles Davis alumni are surefire sellouts) was once again vindicated by the size and enthusiasm of the audience for this, a performance by Wayne Shorter‘s acoustic quartet, now into its second decade, having succeeded the saxophonist’s various fusion-based outfits in 2000.
Even the leader of Phronesis, bassist/composer Jasper Hoiby, seemed keen to get out into the audience to hear the quartet, although this did not prevent his band – completed by pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger – from turning in a characteristically muscular, intensely rhythmic, democratically interactive performance in which ‘the groove’ was never sacrificed to the (often considerable) complexity of the material.
By way of contrast, this sacrifice was one made (apparently willingly) by Shorter’s band, who began their set with a 40-minute composition, the score for which was so copious that it refused to fit on bassist John Patitucci‘s music stand. Abstruse, brooding music that occasionally burst out into slashes and stabs of tenor emphasised by Brian Blade‘s crashing drum tumbles, the whole decorated by sporadic flurries and oddly truncated runs from pianist Danilo Pérez, the piece hovered on the edge of abstraction for much of its length, but was (just) made to cohere by Patitucci’s sinuous bass.
This tension between form and freedom characterised the rest of the band’s 90-minute set, probing restlessness, rhythmic ambiguity and textural variety the order of the day, rather than melodic accessibility, or straightforward propulsiveness. At times, indeed, it seemed the band were playing more for their own enjoyment and gratification than for the audience’s, but the spontaneous roar of approbation that greeted their first departure from the stage (they came back and performed two encores) demonstrated just how successfully Shorter’s apparently esoteric music delivers its enigmatic messages to sympathetic ears.
Performers with their legendary status assured, courtesy of the number (and sheer quality) of the classic albums under their belts, are often (understandably and arguably justifiably) indulged by jazz audiences – anyone who has witnessed a recent concert by Lee Konitz or Pharoah Sanders will be familiar with this syndrome – but, given the almost wilfully private nature of this set from a band whose individual reserves of fluency and eloquence were seldom drawn upon by the stop-start, rubato music they were called upon to play, the standing ovation they received at the concert’s end was nevertheless a tad mysterious.