The mid-1960's were a heady time for Wayne Shorter. Newly enshrined as the permanent heir to Coltrane in Miles Davis's working group, he was the final puzzle piece to the band that would spur Davis to some of the most fruitful years of his career. At the same time, Shorter was in the midst of recording a series of uniformly excellent albums for Blue Note Records that featured the best young jazzmen of the time. They also provided him with a platform for his flair as a composer.
The Soothsayer was Shorter's March 1965 followup to the widely admired Speak No Evil, yet it was not released until the late-1970's. Shorter stalwarts Freddie Hubbard, James Spaulding, McCoy Tyner and Ron Carter are all present, with the wild-card factor being a 19-year-old Tony Williams.
What resulted followed the loose formula established by previous Shorter albums like Night Dreamer. There's a ballad ("Lady Day ), a mid-tempo piece with an easily flowing theme ("Lost ) as well as something immediately catchy ("The Big Push ). What pushes The Soothsayer beyond mere mimicry is the use of a three-man front line. The expanded range of expression offered by this set-up adds greater punch to tunes like "Lost and "Angola. The soloists are all in fine form as well, but perhaps not in top shape. Each improvises with passion, though, on "The Big Push with Hubbard effectively contrasting melodic lines with more jagged runs.
The title track starts very quirkily but resolves into a simple theme that unfurls like the petals of a rose. Tyner sets the mood for the advanced solos that follow with his attentive comping. It is the most exciting and notable piece on the album and features a particularly noteworthy contribution by Shorter.
So, a question remains: why was The Soothsayer banished to the vaults for more than a decade? Perhaps the answer lies with another 1965 Shorter session: The All-Seeing Eye, a daunting, exhilarating nod to the avant-garde which dramatically pushed the envelope in a way The Soothsayer doesn't. Blue Note producer Alfred Lion may have seen it as the more logical choice for the next Shorter release. As well, Williams seems to be holding a back a bit on this session and doesn't play with the time as much as might be expected.
Regardless, The Soothsayer is still a convincing example of Shorter's aptitude as both a tenor saxophonist and composer, and it overcomes the perceived shortcomings with ease.
Personnel: Wayne Shorter: tenor saxophone; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; James
Spaulding: alto saxophone; McCoy Tyner: piano; Ron Carter: bass; Tony