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Without A Net

The Wayne Shorter Quartet - comprising the legendary sax player with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade - has been lauded by critics and audiences alike. From classic recordings with the Miles Davis Quintet, Blue Note albums, to Weather Report and Joni Mitchell, Shorter has surrounded himself with three of the most creative, virtuoso musicians of the younger generation, creating a band with a unique, compelling sense of drama and musicality.

This album marks his return to the Blue Note label, and largely features recordings from the group's 2011 European tour. The excitement is audible throughout. Each tune is very different, yet there is a unified approach, celebrating expressive freedom and discovery, rooted in the band's ability to realise their collective vision through virtuosic technique and mutual understanding.

The opening track 'Orbits' highlights this approach. Ominous piano chords allude to Shorter's melody, and throughout there is a feeling of controlled energy - Shorter leading, Blade explosive on drums, peaking, then subsiding, before shouts and applause from the audience. 'Starry Night' opens impressionistically with the piano and a shimmering percussive backdrop. Patitucci responds contrapuntally, Shorter's sound is tender and explorative; one of the loveliest passages on the album.

'SS Golden Mean' has a lurching dancing quality, like a salsa band on a storm-stricken ocean liner. 'Plaza Real' builds from huge piano chords, hinting at some grandiose square filling with majestic dancers. Shorter's soprano playing on this is magnificent; melodic and brilliantly judged. It's hard to believe he is 79.

'Myrrh' is mysterious. Shorter probes, Blade rattles, crashes, exclaims in reaction, the music creeps and builds before erupting. At the end the audience erupts too. 'Pegasus', featuring Grammy-nominated ensemble Imani Winds, is brilliantly arranged, full of drama and rhythmic tension, but also a searching intensity.

'Flyin Down To Rio' ebbs and flows between moments of crashing intensity and more pensive playing from Shorter in particular. 'Zero Gravity' is Latin in feel. Patitucci provides a fulcrum, Shorter picks out perfectly placed phrases, and Perez and Blade both solo. The piano rises and flows chromatically with increasing energy in 'UFO', before doom-laden chords bring the album to an ominous close, reflecting the opening 'Orbits'.

This album is packed with incredible music, containing moments of elemental intensity, passages of immense beauty, and also sheer joy, all of which take it way beyond a straightforward stroll with a jazz legend.

wayneshorter.com

by Now Then Sheffield