During the '60s, Wayne Shorteras a leader, a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers or Miles Davis' quintet, or a sideman with musicians like Lee Morgan and Grachan Moncur III, was involved with many absolutely perfect studio recordings. It seems very natural, thereforre, that with his current quartet he would be interested in documenting the live aspect of jazz improvisation.
Footprints Live!, the initial recording Shorter did with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade, was so widely acclaimed that it would seem impossible to exceed. Yet since 2001, when that album was released, the four have grown tighter as an ensemble, the roles of soloist and accompanist have grown more beautifully amorphous, and Shorter has had an opportunity to write music specifically for this group. Thus, Beyond the Sound Barrier is not only superior to its predecessor, it should be used a blueprint for what jazz at its highest point can accomplish.
Most of the material the quartet played over its hour-long set at Carnegie Hall as part of the 2005 JVC Jazz Festival last month appears on the new album. On the disc, songs like Arthur Penn's cinematic "Smilin' Through, Mendelssohn's "On the Wings of Song, or the three new Shorter originals are sublime expressions of group thought (not think!). In person, the quartet has developed even further in the intervening time: three segments, including a medley that lasted close to forty minutes, were intellectually draining. Shorter and Co. require as much attention from their audiences as they do from each other. Stray just a little bit and all is lost.
What is evident, both on the new album and during the group's rare appearances, is that Shorter is at his best in working bands. Here, though his name comes first, no member is replaceable; no one can lay back and leave the work to someone else. A natural relationship has developed between the "melodic instruments (Shorter and Perez coalesce so often and so fluidly that it is astonishing) and between the parts of the rhythm section (Patitucci and Blade may be the tightest duo going these days). The music lives off the tension and harmony of these two components.
Shorter's new pieces, or indeed his whole group concept, may not have an easily graspable core or foundation. But it is the culmination of fifty years of jazz history, much of which Shorter wrote himself.
Smilin' Through; As Far as the Eye Can See; On the Wings of a Song; Tinker Bell; Joy Ryder; Over Shadow Hill Way; Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean; Beyond the Sound Barrier.
Wayne Shorter: tenor and soprano saxophones; Danilo Perez: piano; John Patitucci: bass; Brian Blade; drums.
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