Shorter’s jazz live and kickin’ at Berklee
In pop music, the album is the thing. Everything — public attention, touring, awards — revolves around an artist’s latest disc. Success is measured in record sales, digital downloads, and Grammys.
Jazz, however, is all about the moment. Jazz is alive. Jazz is live. A new jazz album is a mere snapshot of a moment in an artist’s or group’s lifespan. It’s one frame in a movie.
Anyone who doubts this hasn’t seen the Wayne Shorter Quartet. The band hasn’t put out an album in six years and has no album on the horizon. But that couldn’t matter less. The legendary saxophonist’s 11-year-old outfit embodies the idea that jazz is a living, breathing thing whose essence is only barely captured by a vinyl album or polycarbonate plastic CD.
A concert by Shorter’s combo demands more than the usual amount of attention from an audience. Tuesday night’s show at Berklee Performance Center was akin to a classical concert. The group didn’t play distinct songs so much as it turned compositions — or snatches of them — into movements that constituted a greater whole.
The quartet played for precisely 90 minutes without stopping. Millisecond pauses between sections caught the crowd off guard. There were smatters of applause before people realized, whoops, it’s not over. The set list was relatively unimportant (oh, here it is: “Zero Gravity,’’ “Lotus,’’ “Over Shadow Hill Way,’’ “She Moves Through the Fair,’’ “Flying Home [to Rio],’’ “Starry Night,’’ and an encore of “I’ll Go My Way By Myself’’), because the band didn’t actually play songs. Instead, pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci, drummer Brian Blade, and Shorter — switching back and forth between tenor and soprano saxes — sewed together a segment of each into a patchwork quilt of music.
Grooves emerged from the rhythm section’s groupthink. Pérez laid down thick clusters of notes, often atonally, while Patitucci thumped out an ostinato on the upright bass. Blade was a study in restless energy — never playing the same pattern for more than a bar or two, jumping around on his stool, even standing at times while he thrashed his sticks about. Over all this, Shorter blew from both the soul and the brain — muscular tones, melancholy phrases, majestic passages.
Trying to describe what Shorter’s quartet did Wednesday is almost futile; the adage about “dancing about architecture’’ applies. This music was complex — at once intellectual and instinctual — and at odds with most of what goes in jazz today. At 77, Shorter is in his creative heyday. His work with Miles Davis’s quintet in the ’60s, his solo projects that followed, his fusion efforts with Weather Report in the ’70s — none of it compares with what he’s been doing this century.
Steve Greenlee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.