When Wayne Shorter put a new working acoustic jazz band together in 2001, there were two possible outcomes that his fans and listeners could have expected: 1) "Nice! Wayne Shorter is going to finally bring back is innovative style of playing and band-leading with new, original compositions that just might rival his composing power demonstrated during his tenures with the Miles Davis band in the mid-1960s, the Weather Report and the V.S.O.P. reunion quartet of the 1970s," or 2) "Ah, I see Mr. Shorter is bored and in need of some cash."
As most listeners of Shorter well know by now, that new band's first output, Footprints Live! was clear indication and proof that the latter theory was entirely false, and a new incarnation of a modern (yet strictly acoustic) jazz musicianship was on the horizon. Coinciding their latest album, Beyond The Sound Barrier, the Wayne Shorter Quartet opened at Carnegie Hall last week on a double bill with the Dave Holland Quintet as part of this year's JVC Jazz Festival.
The quartet features a lineup of Shorter on tenor saxophone, drummer Brian Blade, pianist Danilo Perez and, fresh off of his stint with the Great Jazz Trio, John Patitucci on bass. The words "kindred spirits" get used much too much when it comes to good, solid musicianship between bandmates and, while this group may not rival the feel of Shorter's participation with Miles Davis' ground-breaking band in the 1960s, a true listening between these four men does indeed take place. As the first of the evening's acts, Shorter's group performed five individual songs, each flowing into each other, rather than allowing for the group to pause for a clear indication that the end of one tune had come and that the next was beginning. This approach made for a classical feel, a deliberate presentation of one work, one suite, of sorts. Four of the night's songs were fresh off the new album and, with the natural flow of each song into each other, one was able to leave the show with a new appreciation for that album's compositions.
And, perhaps taking his cue from the late Miles Davis, Shorter opted not to speak to the audience or to introduce his band; he did, however, stop at the show's conclusion to give what appeared a heartfelt and sincere bow to the packed house amid the well-deserved standing ovation.
Vigorously playing, bassist Patitucci anchored the group with a warm, yet heavy sound, almost never fully fading to the other player's individual's solos. Having already proved his talents with numerous bands and on various albums over the years, here Patitucci also demonstrated his versatility, especially those who've heard his more sedated leanings with Hank Jones and the Great Jazz Trio.
Likewise, drummer Blade and pianist Perez kept both the tempo and the overall feel of the performance calm, yet controlled. It's been said that performing with such complete control and musicianship, while keeping the sound on the very cusp of silence, is a great art in itself. If that's the case this band succeeds as true group of artists. Perez reminded this listener of the late Kenny Kirkland in his quiet control. Blade, who was visibly athletic in his drumming approach, was still able to complement the band's sound, rather than dominate; a perfect player for Shorter, who for years played along the great Tony Williams. Although never crossing the lines into "free jazz," Shorter himself was calm and masterful in his own playing, occasionally punching the air with bursts of high-pitched points, then bringing the sound back down to the near silence. And successfully.
If Shorter's new quartet is a group that can be defined by an introverted, internal-sounding loveliness, than Dave Holland's quintet is a perfect example of robust, brash beauty.
Everything about Holland's band points to reverence of jazz's past, but with a newer, modern sound of its own. By comparison, Holland himself seems to be a practitioner of more-is-better-than-less note usage, even taking moments to announce both his band and the songs that were being played. If watching Shorter's band perform was more like a voyeuristic experience on sound experimentation, than seeing Holland's group was more like watching an actual recording session. Throughout their show, the Holland band would each solo, than walk to the corner of the stage, stop, listen, relax - than walk back for the close of a tune. I half-expected for any one of the players to light a cigarette during his minute or so of waiting to play again, his back rested on the stage wall. Rather than Shorter's kindred nature with his own players, Holland and his lineup had the well-polished sound of men who simply practice, practice, practice (to pun the old maxim of the theatre which they were performing in).
With Holland on bass, the group also included Steve Nelson on vibes, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Nate Smith on drums and stand-out participant Chris Potter on soprano saxophone, whose solo during "Easy Did It" was a true highlight of the entire night, with swinging command and virtuosity. What the Holland group does do, in keeping the modern nature of today's jazz growing and evolving, is turn the idea of a "quintet" on its ear with the substitutions of vibes and trombone (two more obscure instruments) in the mix.
Perhaps comparing two different bands like the Holland Quintet and the Shorter Quartet is an unfair idea. Save for their sharing of the night's bill, the two bands are drastically different in their respective approaches to both their sound and to performance. But what would be fair to say is that the love and appreciation of jazz and its evolution is most certainly present in both groups of musicians. And in seeing the enthusiasm from the Carnegie audience (an assortment of young fans in their early teens to the older ones in their seventies), it's all part of a mutual appreciation society.