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2013 Montreal Jazz Festival: June 28-July 2, 2013

John Kelman By

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Shorter's Without a Net is not just notable for it being his first album in eight years, but also for his return to Blue Note, the label where he made so many important recordings during the '60s—albums like Juju (1964), Adam's Apple (1966) and Super Nova (1969), and tunes like "Footprints," "Virgo" and "Sweat Pea." Since forming his current quartet, which first toured in 2001 and released its first album, Footprints Live! (Verve) the following year to considerable acclaim, Shorter has been characteristically careful about his releases, eschewing any kind of regular schedule and, instead, putting them out when he's got the material and the inclination to do so, the result being a small but significant string of superlative late period recordings including 2003's Allegria (Verve)—his only studio recording of the new millennium—and Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve, 2005).



That Shorter has chosen to only record his quartet—pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade—in live contexts is clearly because it's on the concert stage where this exhilarating and endlessly imaginative group belongs, and works best. He's not the only artist to do so—pianist Keith Jarrett hasn't set foot in a recording studio with his 30 year-old Standards Trio in decades—but unlike the veteran pianist, Shorter not only revisits earlier material with arrangements that sometimes render them nearly indecipherable, he also contributes new material, as he has on Without a Net. His live performances are largely continuous affairs, the group segueing from one song to the next with sometimes the slightest of gestures—gestures that can come from anyone in the group, as Shorter lit up with a gentle smile partway through his Montréal set, when Pérez delivered a line that signaled the entire group to shift.

This is not music for the faint-at-heart—a nearby "fan" walked out in something of a huff fifteen minutes into the set, upset that Shorter wasn't celebrating his 80th birthday by looking back and interpreting some of his better known material in the same way he did when he first recorded it. The only thing that's a certainty at a Shorter performance is this: if he does look back, it'll be with the most forward-thinking mindset.

Shorter might seem taciturn—often standing still, waiting for the right moment or, based on his facial expressions, sometimes just flat-out enjoying what his younger group is up to—but when he put a horn to his lips and began to play (during the first half largely on tenor, switching to soprano for the second), it became clear that the same reserve he's demonstrated in his releases applies to his approach to performance, contributing nothing but the right phrases each and every time, never playing too much or too little.

Meanwhile, Pérez, Patitucci and Blade were animated throughout the set. That Pérez's own projects are so radically different only speaks to his innate flexibility; here, he was abstrusely expressionistic, matching Patitucci, who proved as capable of dexterous contributions as he was hanging onto a single note and milking it for all it was worth. Blade was as unfettered as ever, a textural powerhouse who was as likely to be pushing out a briefly thundering groove, before the group's focus shifted on a dime, as he was injecting crashing crescendos that were as absolutely perfect in their moments as Shorter's sparer contributions.

Perhaps the only signs of Shorter's advancing age were his slower gait, relatively short set and lack of encore. Still, with a performance this deep, this intense and this profound, Shorter could be forgiven for his set's brevity. And, as the entire evening pushed past the three-hour mark, this 80th birthday celebration was something for which Montréal fans should feel privileged to have attended; from Trio ACS' inventive arrangements of Shorter material spanning his long career and Sound Prints' thrilling homage to Shorter's own assertion that he's still here and still moving forward, it was a night that seemed to move from one high to another—a night, with absolute certainty, to remember.

June 30: Charles Lloyd Duos: Jason Moran and Bill Frisell

After an evening so filled with such energy and intensity, the following night was the perfect balm, as Charles Lloyd wrapped up his three-night By Invitation series with a show titled Duos, but which ultimately turned out to be something more.

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