The cover art of Without a Net
alone might raise a few eyebrows, but it's the music that proves saxophonist Wayne Shorter is still one of jazz's most ardent provocateurs. In his return to Blue Note after 43 years, Shorterwho turns 80 in 2013 demonstrates his ongoing vitality and ingenuity as an extraordinary composer, improviser, and leader of one of today's strongest quartets. For over ten years, the seemingly telepathic and subliminal messages that Shorter, drummer Brian Blade
, bassist John Patitucci
and pianist Danilo Pérez
communicate continue to inspire in these recordings largely captured from the quartet's European tour in late 2011.
There's room for disappointment for those expecting a fresh studio project, since Shorter's last studio release was 2003's Alegria
(Verve). The slight pain for longtime fans is that this is yet another set of live recordings that's very similar to 2005's Beyond the Sound Barrier
and 2001's Footprints Live
(both on Verve). Yet the joy is all the more rewarding as Without a Net
captures the band at its liveliest and most creative, as well as some new material making a first-time appearance.
Two gems from the past are performed in typical Shorter fashion, completely devoid of nostalgia and full of improvisational freedom. "Orbits," first recorded on trumpeter Miles Davis
's excellent Miles Smiles
(Columbia, 1966) is deconstructed and decelerated to a crawling groove as Pérez methodically pounds the melody before the other members join the fray. "Plaza Real" is a dramatic remake taken from Weather Report
(Columbia, 1983), whereas surprises abound in the band's retelling of the title song from the 1933 musical Flying Down To Rio
, which starred the first on-screen pairing of Fred Astaire
and Ginger Rogers
. It's quite unusual but totally satisfying.
Newer compositions such as "Zero Gravity to the 10th Power" and "Unidentified Flying Objects" are galaxy-expanding works that display Shorter's fertile imagination. The magic of the quartet is heard not only in each musician's potent energy, perfect control and sensitivitywith occasional eccentric whistles from Shorterbut also in its gift of creating spontaneous inventions out of thin air. The release's pièce de résistance
is the brilliant 23-minute "Pegasus," recorded at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, where the quartet is accompanied by the Grammy
-nominated wind ensemble The Imani Winds
. Its vast theme contains elegant movements and unpredictable changes that are brought to fruition by a nonet of outstanding performers.
Shorter's return to Blue Note is momentous, and his volume of workincluding Without a Net
is still expanding. The legendary saxophonist/composer, inquisitive near-octogenarian and avid reader of science fiction is still light years ahead of his time.