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Wayne Shorter: Adam's Apple

Greg Simmons By

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In all the perpetual hubbub surrounding Blue Note records from the 1950s—the aggressive opinions and stratospheric prices—it's sometime easy to forget that the label released really high quality music all the way through the 1960s, and some of the recordings from the later years of the decade are every bit as worthy of attention as the legendary 1500 series dates.

Case in point: Wayne Shorter's Adam's Apple, a quartet date recorded in 1966 when Shorter was a mainstay in Miles Davis Second Great Quintet along with Herbie Hancock who also makes this date. Shorter was writing a great deal of music for both Davis and himself, and almost all of it was very, very high quality. Adam's Apple shows off those skills.

Although there are a couple of real swingers here, Shorter plays quietly through much of the record, only bursting into shout for emphasis in a few places. Even on a quick-paced track like "El Goucho" his tone is measured and relaxed, pulling what might have been a screaming affair in the hands of another saxophonist into a balanced tension between the clear opportunity to blow hard and the smarter, subtler approach. As a quartet, Shorter carries most of the melodic and improvisational duties himself, offering a largely undiluted creative portrait. Everyone takes their turns, but Shorter is clearly setting the atmosphere and pace.

The title track opens with a fleet slipstream foundation from Reggie Workman's bass before Hancock and then Shorter add on layers to build a sample-worthy vamp. The horn takes off, stretching and pulling, but recapitulating neatly several times before handing it off to Hancock for a bluesy second line. Shorter takes it back for the closing, as if he'd had something else he meant to say the first time and went back for more.

Three of the middle tracks are ballads and blues of varying stately tempos, all very introspective, often relaxed, but always powerful. As great as the three up-tempo tracks are, the ballads are the meat of this record. Shorter's ability to convey depth of feeling through creative phrasing is nothing short of amazing, and that he's able to do it so consistently from track to track (and frankly, from album to album) speaks volumes to the outsize of his talent. This album features the first recording of "Footprints" which would gain higher profile when later recorded by Davis' band on Miles Smiles, but this version is arguably a clearer reading of the composition, with some of Shorter's most emotive playing.

Even on "Chief Crazy Horse," the hardest swinging track on the record, Shorter's playing is measured. Joe Chambers has switched to pounding the toms in places and even takes a solo with Hancock comping him, but Shorter again keeps his soloing close to the melody, dipping and diving around it, but not straying too far. Hancock stretches it further, blocking squarely with his left hand as his right shimmers across the keys. It's a masterpiece of taking a simple five note motif and building layers over it, thread by thread into whole cloth.

Although Adam's Apple is now fifty years old, this particular reissue is worth a mention. Music Matters, which has had a decade long run of making high quality, all analog reissues of classic Blue Note records onto vinyl, has done a particularly good job with this two LP 45 rpm record. Re-mastered directly from the original master tapes, the sound has a liquidity to it that's simply pleasurable to hear.

Adam's Apple is at least as good as anything else in Shorter's Blue Note catalog, which is to say that it's excellent: another must-hear record in a long string of must-hear records.

Track Listing: Adam's apple; 502 Blues (Drinkin' and Drivin'); El Gaucho; Footprints; Teru; Chief Crazy Horse.

Personnel: Wayne Shorter: tenor saxophone; Herbie Hancock: piano; Reginald Workman: bass; Joe Chambers: drums.

Title: Adam's Apple | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Music Matters

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