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

 

 

 

 

R.I.P., Louie Bellson

Louie Bellson, the great big band drummer and a veteran of performances and recordings with everyone from Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman to James Brown and Wayne Newton, passed away on Saturday. louie

He was 84, and suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. He had been recovering from a broken hip, resulting from a fall he suffered in November.

Bellson was truly a gifted and explosive drummer, and his career unofficially began at age 17, when he bested about 40,000 other trap-kit players in the Slingerland National Gene Krupa drumming contest.

I first heard Bellson, live, in the late ’70s, when he played with the UF Jazz Band in Gainesville. I recall being dazzled by his ability to use the entirety of his drum kit, his creativity as a soloist (long solos that were never boring), and his overall musicianship.

In addition to his work as a drummer, he wrote more than 1,000 compositions and penned more than a dozen instructional books, according to his web site.

Bellson’s most recent CD, in collaboration with trumpeter Clark Terry, another living legend, is Louie & Clark Expedition 2, released last year.

Jack Bowers, on the site All About Jazz, gave high praise to the CD:  louie-and-clark“Incredible. Who could have foreseen that drummer Louie Bellson and trumpeter Clark Terry, both of whom joined the celebrated Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1951, would be reunited for another high-powered big-band date in 2007. Even more amazing, what are the odds that Terry, who has turned eighty-seven, and Bellson, three years his junior, would still be playing like zealous teen-agers auditioning for their first gig.”

In 2006, the drummer released The Sacred Music of Louie Bellson and the Jazz Ballet.

Ellington once called Bellson “the world’s greatest drummer,” as Don Heckman notes in a piece published today in the Los Angeles Times.

Bellson, born Luigino Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni in Rock Falls, Illinois, was the only white member of the Ellington’s orchestra when he worked with that band from 1951 to 1953.

It was during that period that he met and married African-American singer Pearl Bailey; he later served as Bailey’s musical director and, in the ’60s, he again worked with Ellington. Bailey died in 1990, and the drummer later remarried.

Here’s additional info related to Bellson’s passing, from his web site:

Tentative plans are for an L.A. area funeral, followed by funeral and burial in Moline, Illinois, his boyhood home. Details forthcoming.

Send your Condolences and cards to:

Mrs. Louie Bellson
c/o Remo, Inc.
28101 Industry Drive
Valencia, CA 91355
Contributions in memory of Louie Bellson can be made to:
Emmanuel Baptist Church and mailed to Mrs. Bellson at the address above.

The Boss at the (Super) Bowl: Over-Exposed?

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, although looking pretty long in the tooth, put on a reasonably impressive performance during the Super Bowl halftime show.bruce

Nice hearing solid versions  of oldies “10th Avenue Freeze Out,” “Born to Run” and “Glory Days,” along with the supposed-to-be inspirational title track from his new CD, Working on a Dream.

Credit goes to the NFL powers-that-be for choosing to showcase genuine American music royalty, rather than subjecting viewers to, say, 12 minutes of Kanye West or ‘Lil Wayne.

Still, it might be said that Mr. Integrity didn’t exactly stay true to his school of blue-collar rock. New York Times reviewer Jon Caramanica notes in a story published today that the Boss dropped verses from each of the four songs.

The Times, for the most part, liked the performance:

“Springsteen appeared in good cheer throughout, sliding across the stage on his knees (and into a camera) at the end of ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,’ and singing a collegial duet with the guitarist Steven Van Zandt on an ecstatic ‘Glory Days,’ ” Caramanica writes. ” ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ was warm and bluesy, with Springsteen building up energy for ‘Born to Run,’ which concluded with a spectacular burst of fireworks. For the measured ‘Working on a Dream,’ Springsteen was backed, in triangle formation, by Van Zandt and Patti Scialfa (also Springsteen’s wife), all of them flanked by a gospel choir, the set’s most heavy-handed moment.”

He also altered several lyric lines to reflect the show’ s setting. Said Todd Martens, in his item posted on the L.A. Times music blog: “Give Springsteen credit. He was clearly enjoying the stage, although he misfired by changing the lyrics to “Glory Days,” swapping out the dead-beat baseball player references for lame nods to football. But this was a Springsteen clearly caught up in the advertising-driven spectacle of the Super Bowl, and completely unashamed about all of it.”

Stephen Metcalf, writing in Slate, is a little more harsh: “Springsteen has evolved, in the 35 years I’ve adored him, from an acquired taste that almost no one acquired to America’s favorite karaoke act.”

It wasn’t coincidental, as even Springsteen has admitted, that the performance in part was a pitch for lots of new “product” – including CDs and concert tickets – sure to generate hundreds of millions when all is said and done.

The new album was released on the Tuesday before the performance, and advance-sales tickets for the forthcoming E Street tour went on sale, convenently enough, this morning. Also just released, as Jonathan Cohen points out today in his Billboard piece, is a new greatest-hits disc, available only through Wal-Mart.

And the payoff stands to be strikingly immediate for Springsteen, Martens writes: “In the days following his halftime performance last year, Tom Petty saw a 352% increase in digital track sales. The four songs performed today — the set ended with “Glory Days” (you were expecting something else?) — are surely rocketing up the iTunes sales chart as this quick reaction blog is being typed.”

I suppose all this is win-win, in the short term, for Springsteen.

But, as a fair weather fan — yes, I was entirely blown away by the E Street band’s 1985 performance at the Orange Bowl in Miami — I have to wonder a couple of things:

1)How’s all this working out for his artistic credibility?

and, related questions:

2)Isn’t Springsteen moving into the land of the over-exposed? Is he risking a backlash?

I mean, Bruce has been all over the media recently because of:

  • A good deal of critical slobbering, as well as prominent placement and cover stories, tied in with the release last week of his new album. Brian Hiatt, in his Rolling Stone review, praised the CD’s “romantic sweep and swaggering musical ambition.”
  • His countless pro-Obama efforts in the fall, culminating with his headlining of the pre-inauguration concert (with a gospel choir, natch, a device that’s way over-used), aired live Jan. 18 on HBO. His assumption, a risky one, was that all of his fans shared his political views. I’m guessing that some sort of concert DVD is in the works.
  • His Golden Globe, which he picked up on Jan. 12, for a song, “The Wrestler,” contributed to the Darren Aronofsky film of the same name.

When is a lot of Bruce, too much?

I’d say … about now.