Review: Wayne Shorter Quartet and BBC Concert Orchestra at the Barbican (EFG London Jazz Festival)

Wayne Shorter and the BBC Concert Orchestra
Photo Credit: Roger Thomas. All Rights Reserved

Wayne Shorter Quartet and BBC Concert Orchestra
(Barbican Hall, 16th November 2014. Review by Frank Griffith)

This was a truly heroic night of music from eighty year old saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter, his quartet and the BBC Concert Orchestra, played in front of an awestruck full house. The monumental contributions that he has made to the music were fully captured in the ninety minutes, with material based on his last twenty years of output. Shorter did not feel the need to chat with the audience. With no programme to refer to, this was a somewhat mysterious journey, mystery being very much a characteristic of Shorter, the man himself, and of his music.

The thirty minute-long first half consisted of two extended pieces, ruminative in nature that rarely assumed a fixed groove or tempo for too long. This was an equal exchange of contributions from all four band-members. Shorter never let himself be the focus, and also modestly refrained not only from stating themes, but also from upholding the convention of the featured “front line” player/leader.

The energetic and propulsive bass work of John Pattitucci clearly shone throughout, not only in his virtuoso command of his instrument (both arco and pizzicato) but in his inspired goading on of his quartet compatriot’s efforts. He also projected an ebullience that more than filled the substantial confines of this 1,850 seat venue. Drummer Brian Blade also sparkled with his varied dynamical scope tempered with carefully chosen explosive climaxes that never compromised the efforts of others, especially the orchestra. This can be a concern when an acoustical entourage shares a stage with the potentially overpowering properties of a rhythm section.

The second half of the concert clearly escalated the proceedings into a higher gear with the added weight and dramatic potential of the fifty strong BBC Concert Orchestra. Conductor Clark Rundell was magnificent in his steerage of the ensemble while balancing this with the capricious excitement of the quartet’s improvised interludes. Danilo Perez’ piano role was consistently juggling his brief improvisations with the doubling of orchestral parts. He handled the two with aplomb

Shorter’s melodies have an anthemic and regal quality that never resort to “sing songy” or “rhymey” kitsch. This was fully evident in his orchestration of his composition “The Three Marias” from his 1985 groundbreaking album “Atlantis”. A seamless and organic sharing of inventive ensemble themes with the intimate quartet chemistry.

The final piece, Prometheus Unbound (a rework/expansion of Capricorn II from Alegria), provided a climactic close, followed by an unending standing ovation which effectively put paid to an amazing and unforgettable night of collaboration between these two formidable forces. A crowning moment, to be sure, for the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival in its twenty first year.

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