Wayne Shorter Quartet, “Without a Net” (Blue Note)
Is there a more accomplished, more creative long-running jazz band than master saxophonist Wayne Shorter‘s quartet with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade? Arguably, no, judging from the group’s recorded output and the thrilling concerts — at the Montreal Jazz Fest and Tampa Theatre — I’ve been privileged to catch.
The quartet’s reign as one of the gold standards for forward-thinking, highly collaborative modern jazz bands began 13 years ago and continues with Shorter’s first recording for Blue Note in 43 years, and first album since 2005. “Without a Net” has Shorter leading his bandmates — via brilliant improvisations and challenging compositions — through an adventurous 77-minute musical exploration, a set largely drawn from a 2011 tour in Europe.
Shorter, at 80 (how is that possible?) is playing as imaginatively and as forcefully as ever. His soprano is a thing of beauty to behold, fluttering and darting against and away from the dark-toned piano figures Perez lays down at the start of “Orbits,” a piece from the leader’s tenure with Miles; the tonality lightens and the interplay builds as the piece stretches on.
His soprano is also featured on the rolling, cycling and recycling “S.S. Golden Mean”; the alternately stately and slamming “Plaza Real,” from the Weather Report catalog; the steadily intensifying “Myrrh,” chock full of Blade’s inventive fills and explosions; the sprawling, ultimately furiously intense “Pegasus,” 23 minutes long, recorded with the contemporary wind ensemble Imani Winds at LA’s Disney Hall; and a moody rethink of “Flying down to Rio,” which concludes with a section featuring Perez, scrambling beautifully against the sturm und drang rhythm-section moves of Patitucci and Blade.
Shorter’s tenor, still brawny and full throated, is out front on two free-minded pieces credited as co-written by all four musicians — “Zero Gravity to the 10th Power” and the closer, “(The Notes) Unidentified Flying Objects.” Like nearly every other track here, these compositions make arresting portraits of a remarkable collective of musicians in full flight — musical communication of the highest order.