Wayne Shorter Rides Again, Via His Sprawling “Emanon”

Few veteran (read: older) jazzers find their way into the pop culture conversation as effortlessly and effectively as Wayne Shorter, the saxophonist/composer probably best known for his work with Miles’ Second Great Quintet and electric-jazz giants Weather Report.

The former group, with the two joined by the rhythm section of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and the late Tony Williams, remains a standard bearer, in terms of what jazz is about, and what jazz can do. And the latter, with Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Jaco Pastorius and others, still stands as one of my two favorite fusion bands.

And so it goes with “Emanon” (Blue Note), Shorter’s just-released sprawling set featuring three discs of music and a related graphic novel. Call it Shorter as superhero, as his brilliant quartet, with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, alone on some tracks and elsewhere joined by the 34-piece Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

It’s an ambitious collection of music, drawn in part from Shorter compositions that first appeared on the group’s “Without a Net” album, released in 2013. Bottom line: Inspired compositions and arrangements, high-level group interplay, surprising improvisations. Jazz for now, jazz for the future.

In the music’s sweep and grandeur, there’s something cinematic about these pieces. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising — Shorter is a major film buff, as I learned during a wide-ranging interview with him long ago for the Tampa Tribune, advancing his quartet’s appearance at Tampa Theatre. Our talk constituted one of my most memorable interviews with a musician, during my days on staff with daily newspapers.

“Emanon” (read as “no name” backwards) has all the right publications paying attention — even Rolling Stone, which seldom pays attention to jazz these days, and the New York Times, which notably has cut way back on its jazz coverage. My full review of the CD will appear in a forthcoming issue of Relix magazine.

Some “Emanon” reviews and features:

With ‘Emanon,’ Jazz Elder Wayne Shorter Grandly Sweeps the Stars — NPR.org (Nate Chinen)

Wayne Shorter Unveils a Sprawling Multimedia Opus on ‘Emanon’Rolling Stone (Hank Shteamer)

Wayne Shorter, Jazz’s Abstruse Elder, Isn’t Done Innovating Yet New York Times (Giovanni Russonnello)

With ‘Emanon,’ Legendary Saxophonist Wayne Shorter Finds a Way to Marry Comic Books and JazzLos Angeles Times (Sean J. O’Connell)

At 85, Wayne Shorter is Still Pursuing the UnknownBoston Globe

‘Emanon’ by Wayne Shorter: Grand Ambitions on Full DisplayWall Street Journal

 

 

 

 

Marcus Miller, “Renaissance” (CD review)

(recently published in JazzTimes; direct link)

Marcus Miller, “Renaissance” (Concord Jazz)

Fastest, most melodic thumb in jazz-funk or not—and on many days, he deserves that title—bassist-producer-composer Marcus Miller wields that digit in a manner that’s impossible to ignore. He does that instantly identifiable thing he does with great panache and high musicality from the get-go on Renaissance, his first studio recording since 2008’s Marcus.

Title aside, Miller’s latest is more about the new old-school than the new new-school. That is, he nods to the ’70s, starting with the deep funk of “Detroit,” a bass-out-front piece that often has the leader playing in unison with guitarist Adam Agati and two horn players, alto saxophonist Alex Han and trumpeter Maurice Brown. The music of the aforementioned decade is also alive on “CEE-TEE-EYE,” a partial homage to the jazz-rock crossover of Creed Taylor’s CTI label; a lively take on War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” bolstered by the percussion of Ramon Yslas, Kris Bowers’ creatively rambling piano and snatches of reggae anthem “Get Up, Stand Up”; and the album closer, an unaccompanied version of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There.”

While hardly a variety show, the disc handily shows off Miller’s agility, as he skates from the bottom-thrusting “Redemption,” with keys/horn lines reminiscent of Joe Zawinul, to “Setembro (Brazilian Wedding Song),” featuring rubbery fretless bass à la Jaco, breathy vocals courtesy of Gretchen Parlato and Rubén Blades, and a rhythmic riff hinting at “Manteca.” “February,” featuring an extended solo by Han, is one of Miller’s most affecting ballads, while he amps up the hard rock, led by guitarist Adam Rogers, on “Jekyll & Hyde,” and uses his bass clarinet to lead “Gorée (Go-ray),” a tender-to-raucous piece inspired by a visit to the titular island, once a departure point for Africans forced into slavery. Dr. John even stops by for the bumping and thumping “Tightrope.” Nice catch.

Various Artists, “The New Universe Music Festival 2010” (CD review)

(Recently reviewed for Jazz Times; direct link)

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Various Artists, The New Universe Music Festival 2010 (Abstract Logix)

It must have felt like fusion heaven last November, when the sometimes maligned music’s big names and relative newcomers gathered for two days of performances in Raleigh, N.C. Fourteen tunes by seven of the acts, variously blending jazz, rock, world music and jam-band strains, are heard on The New Universe Music Festival 2010. Yes, direct and indirect references to fusion’s old-school—Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report—are abundant here. But those long susceptible to the myriad pleasures of the genre won’t be disappointed, and first-timers may become converts via the intensity, high energy, creativity and displays of instrumental virtuosity contained on this two-CD set.

Several genuine fusion stars are on hand. John McLaughlin’s 4th Dimension, with bassist Etienne M’Bappe, drummer Mark Mondesir and keyboardist/second drummer Gary Husband, serves up the speed riffing of “Recovery” and hooks up with the guitarist’s old Shakti partner, tabla legend Zakir Hussain, for the stretching, pulsating “Mother Tongues.” RTF drummer Lenny White leads a quintet with guitarist Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic, the Dead, Allman Brothers) on the blues-tinted “Door #3” and Joe Henderson’s tricky-riffing “Gazelle.”

Herring and a Project Z bandmate, drummer Jeff Sipe, head a quartet with bassist Neil Fountain and keyboardist Matt Slocum on the alternately meditative and rowdy “Rainbow,” moody ballad “Gray Day” and a pleasantly trippy, sliding and bending stroll through George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You.” There’s more mixing and matching throughout, as Sipe and Fountain team with guitarist Alex Machacek for the candy-colored lines of “Strafe” and the initially meditative “Very Sad.” Guitarist Wayne Krantz is heard in two bands, both with monster bassists: Matthew Garrison on “Vignesh” and “Origin” and Anthony Jackson on “Why.” And Garrison and Joe Zawinul-loving keyboardist Scott Kinsey also put in multiple appearances. Fusion lives.