Blue Note is adept at finding fresh ways of repackaging its back cataloguethe label has to be, because in not so many years time, every dodgy operator on the planet will be able to punt the music out, in any permutation they fancy, unconstrained by copyright restrictions. Blue Note Europe's new Great Sessions
series is a particularly attractive idea. Each set slipcases together three more or less consecutive albums, almost all of them in audio-enhanced RVG editions, at a budget price.
Wayne Shorter's collection comprises his three greatest mid-'60s albums, recorded after he'd left the Jazz Messengers and during his first years with Miles Davis: Juju (1964), Speak No Evil (1964) and Adam's Apple (1966). They catch the evolution of the first Zeus-like post-Coltrane saxophonist from a quirky but codified hard bopper into an increasingly impressionistic and singular improviser.
At the time, Juju must have felt like a make or break album for Shorter, exposing him as the sole horn in front of Coltrane's definitive and all-conquering rhythm section. It rocks, but the partnership with McCoy Tyner was ultimately too dark and brooding for comfort, and Shorter only completely finds his own voiceand a perfectly compatible harmonic foil, in the sunnier and lighter-on-his-feet Herbie Hancockon Speak No Evil.
Speak No Evil and Adam's Apple also announce Shorter's emergence as a major-league composerall the tunes are originals except Jimmy Rowles' "502 Blues" and Hancock's "Chief Crazy Horse." The perennially popular "Footprints" is here, of course, and so are a stack of other tunes of equal stature. Shorter's melodies may lack the catchy pop hooks of his royalty-rich saxophonist/composer contemporary Benny Golson, but they overflow with harmonic and rhythmic interest, and some of their darker corners only reveal themselves with time. (Davis must have thought perma-Christmas had arrived when he hired Shorter, who wrote much of the material for Miles Smiles, The Sorcerer, E.S.P. and Nefertiti, including the title tracks for the latter two albums).
Other artists so far getting the Great Sessions treatment are Herbie Hancock (Empyrean Isles, Maiden Voyage, Speak Like A Child), Michel Petrucciani (Michel Plays Petrucciani, Power Of Three, Playground), Sonny Rollins (Volume 1, Volume 2, Newk's Time), Miles Davis (Birth Of The Cool, Miles Davis Vol. 1, Miles Davis Vol. 2) and Cannonball Adderley (Somethin' Else, Cannonball's Bossa Nova, Mercy Mercy Mercy!). Each Great Sessions set retails in the UK for just under £8.
Personnel: Wayne Shorter: tenor saxophone; Freddie Hubbard (9-15): trumpet; McCoy Tyner (1-8),
Herbie Hancock (9-22): piano; Reggie Workman (1-8,16-22), Ron Carter (9-15): bass; Elvin
Jones (1-15), Joe Chambers (16-22): drums.