May 23, 2024

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CD review: Alan Shorter – Mephistopheles To Orgasm Revisited – 2024: Video, CD cover

“He was nomadic. The strongest and most lasting thing you can say about Alan is that he was an original, as original as you can get. He didn’t want any academic guidelines to equip him to reinvent the wheel. If he saw something like that, he’d go the other way.” – Wayne Shorter

What little we can say we know about Alan Shorter, brass player, composer, and writer, older broth-er of Wayne Shorter, and enigmatic and only occasional figure on the edges of the avant scene from the mid-1960s until his death in 1988, comes primarily from his brother, quoted above; information from poet and critic Amiri Baraka, a friend from their adolescent neighbor-hood days in Newark and later as students at Howard University; and scattered reports from his sojourn in Europe.

(David Grundy’s extensive piece in the June 2020 posting of the online magazine Point of Departure collects these details and elaborates, interprets, and specu-lates into the broadest portrait we have.)

The reality is, we may derive more about him from the evidence of his music, sparsely document-ed but significantly represented here, than any second-hand source. Still, there are clues to be gleaned from his brother’s comments. The description of him as “nomadic” implies a restlessness, a dissatisfaction with one’s environment, and an unfulfilled desire for that which is just beyond one’s reach.

A rejec-tion of pre-established conformity or “accept-able” solutions to questions of intent and iden-tity confirms the impulsive nature of originality. And a creative focus based upon contrary per-spectives and unpredictable decisions can achieve wondrous art but seldom results in popular success.

This, along with a seeming reticence, or inability, to adapt one’s own cre-ative process to a shared give-and-take with others may, in part, account for Alan Shorter’s neglect in light of his brother’s renown. Wayne acknowledged that, as youngsters in late-‘40s, early-‘50s Newark (both playing saxophone at the time), choosing to pursue the complex, audience perplexing innovations of bebop rather than a more accessible, danceable style of musical entertainment cast the brothers in the role of “weird” and rebellious outsiders.

Separated in high school and by individual life choices thereafter, they proceeded upon differ-ent career paths, Alan first appearing on Archie Shepp’s Four For Trane in 1964, now alternating between trumpet and flugelhorn (the reason for his change of instruments attributed, variously and unreliably, to either his not wishing to com-pete with his brother or a hallucinatory experi-ence with spirit voices), and the next year guesting on the already established Wayne’s album The All Seeing Eye in a performance of his own composition “Mephistopheles.”

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