May 23, 2024

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CD review: Wayne Shorter – Emanon 2018: Video

For decades, composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter has led one of the more impressive quartets in jazz. With pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade, the 85-year-old saxophonist has explored the connections between chamber music and jazz.

This band rehearses on-stage, creating innovative architectures via in-the-moment dialogue and improvising with unbridled freedom that never gives way to excess. Emanon is their first recording in five years and conceptual in nature. It comprises a four-part suite in a studio date from 2013 with the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble, and two 2016 live discs of the quartet playing the Emanon material with other tunes. It’s packaged in an oversize hardbound book that contains a 36-page graphic novel that Shorter co-wrote with Monica Sly and illustrator Randy DeBurke. It follows the exploits of its “rogue philosopher”/warrior/protagonist namesake (“no name” spelled backwards, from a Dizzy Gillespie tune). He fights bad guys in the multiverse, a concept that shares principles with the Buddhist notion of emptiness, allowing for an infinite number of simultaneously existing universes that Emanon travels effortlessly between.

Disc one begins with piano and soprano sax probing the suggestion of melody, but really it’s the pianist offering Shorter a chance for dialogic thought. Orchestral brass, strings, and the rhythm section enter minutes later and create melody from rhythm and vice-versa. The full orchestra’s colorful voicings introduce “Prometheus Unbound” with a majestic grandeur balanced by the quartet’s subtler interventions. “Lotus” commences as a full-on orchestral thematic statement answered by a recurrent three-note piano ostinato that’s countered by free blowing from Perez and Shorter. They are barely held in check by the fluid pulse from Blade and Patitucci. The chamber group’s bold yet lush restatement later in the piece frames the quartet’s interrogatory investigation of blues. “The Three Marias,” whose origins date back to 1985’s Atlantis, is rendered completely anew with Bernstein-esque orchestral flourishes and a sweeping theme. Shorter plays soprano and tenor with equal vigor. The quartet emerges to take over with speculative and assertive conversation until the last third, where the orchestra returns with tempi, texture, and dynamic changes ushering in a sweeping conclusion.

The two live discs begin with a radically revisioned 27-minute version of “The Three Marias,” where the group’s close listening and instinctive risk-taking chart the unknown amid post-bop, modal jazz, and free improv. The medley of “Lost” and “Orbits” is edgier, traversing out jazz one moment and swinging grooves the next as Perez provides a wide palette for his bandmates to color.

The final disc opens and closes with kaleidoscopic quartet versions of “Lotus” and “Prometheus Unbound,” with stops at the traditional “She Moves Through the Fair” (unrecognizable from their 2003 version) and a short, blistering “Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean” that goes from 0-60 instantly in a bluesy workout led by Shorter’s soprano, followed by Perez’s Latin montunos and vamps given a heavy bottom by the rhythm section. While Emanon’s suite may take some getting used to, it is a profoundly imaginative work; the quartet concert offers a killer portrait a group whose M.O. is pushing at the margins until they give way to something altogether new. – AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek – Label: Blue Note!

1. Pegasus
2. Prometheus Unbound
3. Lotus
4. The Three Marias

CD2 – Live in London/The Barbican, London, UK/2016
1. The Three Marias
2. Lost and Orbits Medley

CD3 – Live in London/The Barbican, London, UK/2016
1. Lotus
2. She Moves Through the Fair
3. Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean
4. Prometheus Unbound

Wayne Shorter: tenor and soprano saxophones
Danilo Perez: piano
John Patitucci: bass
Brian Blade: drums
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra:
violin I: Richard Rood, concertmaster,
Martha Caplin, Laura Frautschi, Joanna Jenner, Renee Jolles, Sophia Kessinger
violin II: Calvin Wiersma, principal, Ronnie Bauch, Adela Pena, Eriko Sato
viola: Dov Scheindlin, principal, Mark Holloway, Daniel Panner, Nardo Poy
cello: Eric Bartlett, principal, Melissa Meell, Jonathon Spitz, James Wilson
double bass: Donald Palma, principal, Jordan Frazier
flute: Susan Palma Nidel, principal, Elizabeth Mann
oboe: James Austin Smith, principal, Alexandra Knoll
clarinet: Alan Kay, principal, Alicia Lee
bassoon: Frank Morelli, principal, Marc Goldberg
horn: Stewart Rose, principal, Julie Landsman
trumpet: Louis Hanzlik, principal, Carl Albach
trombone: Michael Powell
timpani: Maya Gunji 

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