As a saxophonist, founding member of Weather Report and member of Miles Davis' second great acoustic quintet, it won't be hard to find Wayne Shorter's name in the pages of modern jazz history. But the massive The Music of Wayne Shorter highlights a sometimes-overlooked element of Shorter's musicianship: His ability to compose, which has contributed "Footprints," "Nefertiti," "Speak No Evil" and other standards to the jazz canon. As bassist Christian McBride, a former member of Shorter's quartet, writes in the notes to this set: "Wayne's music has become basic instrumental vocabulary for all of who came after him. For anyone wishing to play jazz, it is a must that you come through the music of Ellington, Monk, and Shorter."
Ellington and his Orchestras are an essential reference point for these JALC Orchestra retellings of ten Shorter originals, all featuring the composer as soloist. Close your eyes while listening to the opening "Yes or No" and it's easy to imagine dapper Duke Elllington And His Orchestra fronting his orchestra, snapping his fingers with sophisticated cool as he wraps the traditional yet hip orchestral sound around vibrant solos from Shorter on saxophone, JALC Orchestra Music Director Wynton Marsalis on trumpet and Dan Nimmer on piano.
"Hammer Head" swims in and out of deep blue orchestral swing, with Shorter's tenor and Sherman Irby's alto dancing together while Gardner's trombone nuzzles up to the rhythm section for more earthy, funky pleasures. "Contemplation" slows to a purposeful stroll and spotlights only Shorter, who lingers in liquid lines that seem to float upward and then vanish like blue smoke before closing with a stylistic love letter to swing tenor giants like Ben Webster.
The collective sound and vision grow even larger and stronger as this set progresses through disc two. "Armageddon" swaggers through some blues until it stumbles and breaks into the sound of things falling apart but then resolutely rebuilds the original riff and settles into a slick stride, kept slippery by pianist Nimmer's plump chords, by the end of Shorter's solo. Trumpeter Marcus Printup and drummer Ali Jackson kick up dust from New Orleans in their solos, too.
The set-ending "Mama 'G'" is a full-throttle instrumental solo round blowout. Shorter leans in and makes sure his final turn counts: Each studied pause lines up the perfect spot, then his tenor howl jumps back into the rhythm, turning notes into phrases, turning these phrases inside out and upside down, then splattering those notes back out into new patterns. "Mama 'G'" is the perfect celebratory sound to end The Music of Wayne Shorter.
Disc One: Yes or No; Diana; Hammer Head; Contemplation; Endangered Species; Disc Two: Lost; Armageddon; The Three Marias; Teru; Mama "G."
Sherman Irby: alto and soprano saxophones, flute, piccolo, Bb clarinet; Ted Nash: alto and tenor saxophones, C And alto flutes, piccolo, Bb clarinet; Victor Goines: tenor saxophone, Bb and Eb clarinets; Walter Blanding: tenor and soprano saxophones, Bb clarinet; Paul Nedzela: baritone and alto saxophones, bass clarinet; Ryan Kisor: trumpet; Kenny Rampton: trumpet; Marcus Printup: trumpet; Wynton Marsalis: trumpet; Vincent Gardner: trombone; Chris Crenshaw: trombone; Elliot Mason: trombone; Dan Nimmer: piano; Carlos Henriquez: bass; Ali Jackson: drums.