"Sacajawea," the first track on Wayne Shorter's new CD, Alegría, is a monster. Shorter makes a succinct statement on soprano saxophone, and the rhythm section is off to an instant boil. His first tenor solo has a familiar urgency, and Danilo Perez's piano is striving yet economical. When the full quartet returns, Shorter duets with himself on both horns with harrowing intensity. At the finish, the band's laughter must be half nervous energy, half knowing that they nailed it.
This degree of communication and commitment is evident on all three tracks that feature last year's Footprints Live! group. On "She Moves Through the Fair," Shorter deftly switches from sweet soprano to tenor and back, while Brian Blade's impressionistic cymbals splash underneath, like water being thrown from a pail and landing on a plate glass window. "Capricorn II" is a showcase for tenor and piano where both Shorter and Perez solo with bluesy mystery.
The other tracks on Alegría, Shorter's first all-acoustic studio recording since 1967, augment the quartet with brass, winds, strings, and Latin percussion. While Perez and Blade are not on every track, John Patitucci's bass is, bowed elegantly in a duet with cello on a Brazilian version of Bach, pliant and chunky with Alex Acuña and Terri Lyne Carrington's percussion on "Angola" (from Shorter's Miles Davis years). On "Orbits," first heard during the Davis period, woodwinds embellish Shorter's dirty, strangulated tenor sound on top of Patitucci's muscular foundation. It's a rich contrast.
Alegría is jazz music of the highest pedigree. It demonstrates the full range of Wayne Shorter's musical imagination and intelligence, challenging the conventions of category. At turns orchestral, classical, latinized and traditional, the work rewards repeated listening: for its brilliant arrangements, extraordinary rhythms, and wondrous individual musicianship. In Wayne Shorter, a giant walks among us.