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Wayne Shorter Quartet: Toronto, February 12, 2011

Alain Londes By

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Wayne Shorter Quartet
Massey Hall
Toronto, Canada
February 12, 2011

During a recent NPR interview with Michelle Mercer, the author of Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter (Tarcher, 2004) talked about how the saxophonist is still capable of keeping people interested through his continuous playing and writing. His quartet has not recorded together in years, and yet, what defines these musicians is less about releasing albums than intersecting musicality in performance. At the center of all of this is Shorter—who, at this stage in his career, veers more towards personal reflection.

Shorter's rhythm section—each one a true professional—attracted a large number of students earlier in the day, for a clinic held in Koerner Hall at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music. The evening's show, at Massey Hall, attested to Shorter's continuing appeal. Nevertheless, some fans still chose to come a bit late, while a few missed the two brief encores at the end of the quartet's 90-minute show.

Appreciating the mood that this group instills is akin to unwinding, at the end of a busy day, in front of the relaxing yet complex flow of a musical patchwork rooted in jazz. Pianist Danilo Pérez's delicate notes opened a very cerebral piece, as bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade added the key components of structure, with Shorter coming in on tenor sax. A unique feature of this quartet was that all four musicians shared the same space, without ever feeling the need to drop off for featured solos. Lead sheets were present, but spontaneity was the oxygen that kept all encounters fresh.

Following a respectful round of applause at a logical break, the rhythm section continued to pursue its theme, with Blade providing subtle intensity, while never overpowering the sound. There was a lot of space, and Pérez amplified that effect by slowing his piano interplay. Patitucci set a resounding depth, by using his bow, while Shorter switched to soprano for the specifically called-for emotion. The musical communication throughout the evening was very subtle, with one musician reacting seamlessly to the others' ideas. By contrast, during one specific moment Patitucci could be seen looking directly towards Shorter, in order to find just the right answer, during a brief call-and-response.

Witnessing the performance was like being part of a spiritual exercise, where the ears were used to listen attentively, while also reflecting passively. One fan at the end of the final piece clearly blurted out: "Oh, yes!"

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