Album reviews

Wayne Shorter, Terri Lyne Carrington, Leo Genovese, esperanza spalding – ‘Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival’

Wayne Shorter, Terri Lyne Carrington, Leo Genovese, esperanza spalding – Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival
(Candid Records. Album review by Jon Turney)

Jazz players rarely retire voluntarily, but many – perhaps most – settle into the familiar, the tried and tested, in their last years. Wayne Shorter is a shining exception. For nearly two decades this century his live work was a sizzling extended finale to a creative career that stretches back to a debut recording in 1959.

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The regular vehicle for this unusually rich study in late style was the acoustic quartet he formed in 2000 with Danilo Perez on piano, bassist John Patitucci and the incomparable Brian Blade on drums: as intense a concentration of musical intelligence as ever graced a bandstand.

Their mutual inspiration was clear. But Shorter, occasionally incandescent on tenor or soprano sax, more often goading, coaxing, cajoling or nudging the others with small interjections – often a single tone placed just so – was ever the steersman for this beautiful, raucous crew.

That band made such an impression on listeners it’s hard to hear this newly released live recording from 2017 with a different, equally accomplished quartet without making the comparison. The one-off performance was captured at the Detroit Jazz Festival that year, when Shorter was artist in residence. Originally planned to include the pianist Geri Allen, it turned into a posthumous tribute to her by a group featuring Shorter, Terri Lyne Carrington on drums, esperanza spalding on bass and voice, and Leo Genovese on piano.

All have worked with, been mentored by, or just inspired by the saxophonist, and they can match the feel of his regular quartet well. Like them, they generate a free-flowing interaction that is deliciously unpredictable from moment to moment. As usual, there are compositions – this is not free improvisation, but playing that is as free as it can be with written landmarks. The first piece, Shorter’s Someplace called “Where”, seems to coalesce gradually out of softly rippling piano, gestural brushwork on the drums, ruminative bass and brief phrases from Shorter’s tenor, before spalding’s vocal carries a bracingly abstract line over the top. Shorter and spalding’s jointly composed Endangered Species, which follows, runs for over 20 minutes and features a fiery duet between the saxophonist and pianist, who continue to spur each other on when the bass and drums rejoin.

Here, and on the remaining three pieces – the CD is rounded off with a band interview – the four take the willing Detroit audience, gathered for a free open-air festival, on a wild ride. It’s absorbingly adventurous music.

But that comparison nags. This is a very good band. But not a Great band. That might emerge if they worked together for a decade, but wasn’t achievable in a single engagement. They don’t quite have the loose-limbed togetherness developed from so many nights on stage. And everyone plays brilliantly, but they don’t reach the transcendent level you hope for from a Wayne Shorter quartet gig. That’s too much to ask, I know. Danilo Perez relates in the Shorter documentary Zero Gravity how he would from time to time have an out of body experience when he, Shorter, Blade and Patitucci performed together. I doubt if anyone was having one on this night in 2017.

It is excellent to have this recording. Still, I’m left wondering how the other quartet, who appeared earlier in the festival in one of their last shows before Shorter had to retire from playing, sounded in Detroit that year.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol: website and Twitter.

Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival is released on 9 September 2022. ORDER HERE

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