Wayne Shorter was setting the jazz world on fire at the time of this 1965 Blue Note session, now available as part of the Rudy van Gelder
remaster series. The tenor saxophonist had just joined Miles Davis' quintet, with whom he'd go on to make six classic albums, and he'd recently released a milestone album of his own, 1964's Speak No Evil
(Blue Note). The Soothsayer
finds Shorter in the company of such stellar contemporaries as bassist Ron Carter and the teen phenom drummer Tony Williams, both fellow members of Davis' group, as well as John Coltrane's pianist McCoy Tyner, firebrand trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and the superb alto saxophonist James Spaulding. All are in top form here with the underrated Spaulding pushing his more celebrated colleagues for top soloist honors. The album features five Shorter originals, including a couple of catchy hard bop cookers"Angola" and "The Big Push"which recall Shorter's tenure with Art Blakey. Also of note are the stirring Billie Holiday tribute "Lady Day" and Shorter's exquisite arrangement of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius' "Valse Triste."
The mystery surrounding The Soothsayer is why such an outstanding album sat gathering dust on the Blue Note shelves for 15 years before its eventual 1980 release. The only answer that comes to mind is that as good as it is, it's a fairly conventional outing that doesn't match the adventurousness of Shorter's other work from the period, like the heralded 1965 session The All Seeing Eye (Blue Note), or his contributions to landmark Davis albums like E.S.P. (Columbia, 1965), recorded just prior to The Soothsayer. Still, even if it's not a major breakthrough, it's an exhilarating illustration of Shorter's artistry both as a composer and tenor stylist.
Personnel: Wayne Shorter: tenor saxophone; James Spaulding: alto saxophone; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; McCoy Tyner: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Tony Williams: drums.