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Wayne Shorter Quartet at National Concert Hall, Dublin

Ian Patterson By

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Wayne Shorter Quartet
National Concert Hall
Dublin, Ireland
June 14, 2014

The rapturous applause that greeted the Wayne Shorter Quartet as it took to the stage of Dublin's National Concert Hall was a heart-felt show of appreciation for Shorter's immense contribution to jazz over the past six decades. From his role as artistic director in both drummer Art Blakey's The Jazz Messengers and trumpeter Miles Davis's second great quintet to his fourteen-year tenure alongside keyboardist Joe Zawinul in Weather Report, Shorter has been a key figure in shaping modern jazz.

His particularly fertile creative period in the 1960s, when he produced a string of outstanding solo recordings, has left an indelible stamp on countless jazz musicians but it's this quartet of fourteen years standing that will perhaps be remembered as Shorter's greatest legacy. The applause that enveloped the octogenarian Shorter, pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade was also fueled, no doubt, by the excitement of expectation.

With only one studio recording in fourteen years the quartet's identity has been built upon the stage, reinterpreting Shorter's music in titanic medleys whose melodic references—to tunes spanning fifty years—serve as launching pads for collective improvisation, and as signposts along the way.

Perez's gentle probing released the melody of "Zero Gravity," with Patitucci's arco, Blade's mallets and Shorter's purring tenor ruminations combining in an understated opening. When in its stride the quartet kicked up a storm, with Pattitucci and Blade locked in a dynamic dialog—a world within a world—spurred by Perez's vamps. For the first forty minutes Shorter coaxed lyrical lines intermittently from his tenor, his most extended solo coming amid explosive drumming from the animated Blade.

A serene, almost arhythmic passage provided an oasis of tranquility before Shorter's switch to soprano raised the temperature once more. The saxophonist's keening lines lead the quartet into "Unidentified Flying Object"- an intense burst of collective thunder whose sudden conclusion brought the first pause in the program after fifty exhilarating minutes.

The second piece clocked in at thirty five minutes and revolved around two melodic threads; Shorter's tenor announced the familiar melody of "Plaza Real" from Weather Report's album Procession (Columbia, 1983). Shorter and Perez played with the melody over a slow groove fueled by Patitucci's two-note bass ostinato and Perez's constant left-hand response. All the while Blade on brushes quietly stirred the currents. Perez stated the theme from "Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean," steering the quartet into a lyrical passage with Shorter on soprano. An absorbing push-and-pull evolved: Shorter's stronger phrasing cajoled Blade before Perez did likewise; the pianist's solo—all the while maintaining the constant, dark-hued vamp—ratcheted up the quartet intensity.

One of the most exciting facets of the quartet's compelling narrative was its stealthy movement back and forth between tip-toeing lyricism, explosive exclamations and plateaus of greater flow. At roughly the halfway point of the second piece Perez' unaccompanied, neo-classical solo seemed to signal a gradual winding down; Shorter's impassioned soprano cries, however, lofted the standard once more and pulled the quartet into the eye of the storm. Blade's intense bombardment, rumbling and cracking like the God of Thunder as the music swelled around him was hypnotic to watch. Eventually, the collective energy subsided and Perez' delicate coda wrapped up an electrifying performance.

A standing ovation ensued and the quartet encored with Shorter's tune "Orbits," which first appeared on Davis' album Miles Smiles (Columbia, 1967). Perez injected overtly Latin colors into what was essentially a vamp that afforded Shorter a final, spiraling hurrah on soprano. At the end, after an hour and forty minutes of uplifting music, Perez and Shorter united on a motif that sounded like bells peeling—a fittingly celebratory gesture.

Though clearly the quartet has traveled farther than it has left to go, Shorter, Perez, Patitucci and Blade are playing with greater dynamism and nuance than they were on setting out fourteen years ago. Few bands operate with this level of intuition, or with such searing intensity. Shorter is an avid fan of science fiction but you couldn't write this stuff. Simply out of this world.

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