It's an insurmountable task to capture the entire career of one of jazz's living legends on a dual CD release, but Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter is a comprehensive attempt that highlights some of the saxophonist's key recordings. If you've been listening to jazz for any length of time, you've more than likely heard Shorter's music. He is debatably more known for his writing and composing, which have produced music that has endured and is recorded by younger artists today, yet 2003's Alegria proved his playing skills are still intact.
The compilation is a jazz history lesson beginning in the '60s with Shorter swinging with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers on "Lester Left Town," followed two tunes later by the sheer beauty of "Infant Eyes" and "Time of the Barracudas" as Shorter performs with the Gil Evans Orchestra, featuring names like Kenny Burrell, Elvin Jones, and Gary Peacock. The unforgettable 1966 release of "Footprints" with the supreme Miles Davis Quintet (Herbie Hancock, Buster Williams, and the magical drums of Tony Williams) is still a delight to hear.
Experimental, electric, and progressive jazz is not a new thing, as Shorter proved on "Sanctuary" from Miles' groundbreaking jazz/fusion recording Bitches Brew with music ahead of its time. This creative flow continued in the early '70s with keyboardist Joe Zawinul and Weather Report on gems like "Mysterious Traveler," "Elegant People," and the classic "Palladium," featuring the late great bassist Jaco Pastorius. Each piece gives further light into Shorter's creative brilliance regardless of era and setting.
The scope of these selections also reflects Shorter's diversity, from the Indian mantra of "Ponta De Areia" to his calculated but smooth sax solo on Steely Dan's pop music hit "Aja."
Critics will undoubtedly bemoan the absence of numerous classics, and some pieces may resonate more clearly than others according to one's past associations with Shorter's music. But as Shorter so aptly states, "This compilation represents the DNA of my full life and work. Those who listen closely will hear a sample of the whole story here."
And what a story it is.