CD review

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis featuring Wayne Shorter – “The Music of Wayne Shorter”

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis featuring Wayne Shorter – The Music of Wayne Shorter
(Blue Engine Records BE0023. Download Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra under the direction of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis featured Wayne Shorter in a series of concerts in 2015, highlighting new arrangements for big band of Shorter’s tunes. This CD was recorded from the shows over three nights.

The selection of Shorter’s tunes is weighted very much towards his early career, with seven of the ten tracks originating in the late 1950s to mid 60s; of the others, two are taken from the 1985 release Atlantis. The orchestra brings its own feel to the music, though Shorter’s solos on tenor and soprano saxophone show how even in his eighties he was on top of his craft.

The orchestra sounds great, the arrangements bringing out the best in them. This should be no surprise: all the arrangers come from within the band; they clearly understood the palette they had to work with.

The main soloist is of course Shorter: his saxes grace all but one of the pieces. On Hammer Head, a slice of upbeat, bouncy big band bop orchestrated by fellow saxophonist Sherman Irby, Shorter has a punchy, youthful voice. His sound on soprano has more depth and contemplation in Lost and Found; much of the piece is just Shorter plus the rhythm section, following which a moody trumpet solo from Kenny Rampton signals the return of the orchestra.

The sole track without Shorter, Teru, is arranged by Wynton Marsalis as a feature for the saxophone section, and has solos from two tenors, Walter Blanding and Victor Goines. It is shamelessly romantic, a wonderfully moving ballad that smooths any wrinkles.

Marsalis himself takes a trumpet solo on the opening track, Yes or No. Victor Goines’ swinging arrangement lets the orchestra soar at full blast for the final crescendo.

Swinging is what JALCO excels at; in his closing comments, Marsalis calls the Lincoln Center, and hence the band, “the house of swing”. Their seemingly effortless precision and slickly rehearsed charts may smooth out the rough-edged exuberance of Shorter’s original small group recordings, but in its place they give us some sublime orchestral jazz.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.

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