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

 

 

 

 

Derek Trucks at Tampa Theatre (concert review)

(Below is a review initially intended for publication elsewhere; photo is mine, taken at Bear Creek Music Festival)

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi – Soul Stew Revival

derek1Dec. 29, 2008

Tampa Theatre

Listening to Derek Trucks unleash his bottleneck-slide lines on “700 Houses,” a slow, bluesy tune penned by guitarist-singer Susan Tedeschi, his wife and bandmate in Soul Stew Revival, it was difficult warding off chills.

Trucks’ playing, on the stage of an historic art-deco movie theater in front of a home-state crowd that has practically watched the former child prodigy grow up, again was sublime — simultaneously salty and sweet, stinging and gentle, an exquisitely conversant instrumental voice that has to be witnessed to be truly appreciated.

Trucks unleashed his fertile guitar improvisations throughout the long, satisfying set, presented by an oversized ensemble allying his band with Tedeschi, a three-piece horn section, younger brother Duane Trucks on second drum kit and sometime DTB member Count M’Butu on percussion.

The 11-piece group opened with “Talking About,” a blast of scorching blues-rock that leads off Tedeschi’s recent Back to the River CD. It offered a showcase of her newly mature, road-sharpened vocals and her own impressive six-string work.

So did the evening’s other tunes from that album — “People,” with organist Kofi Burbridge’s quick flute solo, and the R&B-grooving “Can’t Sleep at Night.”

The show, with Tedeschi mixing and matching with DTB singer Mike Mattison, also offered a preview of Trucks’ forthcoming sixth studio album, Already Free, including the rootsy acoustic-electric blues of the title track; the gospel-tinged “Days Is Almost Gone”; the slinky “Don’t Miss Me”; and “Down in the Flood.”

Trucks, who has day jobs with the Allman Brothers Band and his own group, frequently sits in on other artists’ performances — Lettuce, Soul Live, and Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk at the Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival late last year in north Florida — and recordings.

So it was pleasant, but no surprise, when pedal-steel wizard Roosevelt Collier of Miami’s Lee Boys joined in on Buddy Guy’s “Done Got Over You.”

Collier returned for the encore, a triumphant version of The Band’s “The Weight,” which made a perfect match with Soul Stew Revival’s appealing mix of blues, rock, and old-school R&B.

Soul Stew Revival set list

Talking About
700 Houses
Down In The Flood
People
Can’t Sleep At Night
Days Is Almost Gone
Get Out Of My Life
Already Free
Meet Me At The Bottom
Chicken Robber
Don’t Miss Me
Gonna Write Him A Letter
Hercules
Sugar
Pack Up Our Things And Go
Done Got Over You
I’ve Got A Feeling
Space Captain

Encore:

The Weight

David Byrne Wows Crowd at Tampa Theatre

If I were putting together a list of the year’s best concerts in the Tampa Bay area, David Byrne’s show at Tampa Theatre would land somewhere near the top.

David ByrneMy review of the Dec. 12 show is now available at jambands.com, or read the full text below (photo courtesy of Byrne’s site):
David Byrne, Tampa Theatre, Tampa, FL- 12/12
Philip Booth
2008-12-22 Given his background as a visual artist and inveterate, relentlessly curious cultural explorer, it’s hardly a surprise that David Byrne concocts an intriguing new concept for each of his recording projects and tours — here an oversized Latin band, there a small combo with a vibraphonist.

Byrne’s latest tour, in support of this year’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his first collaboration will Brian Eno in nearly 30 years, is no exception, as the former Talking Heads leader demonstrated on a return trip to Tampa Theatre, a beautifully appointed 1926 art deco movie palace that doubles as an intimate concert venue.

This time, Byrne was joined by keyboardist/programmer Mark De Gli Antoni, bassist Paul Frazier, drummer Graham Hawthorne, and percussionist Mauro Refosco plus back-up singers Kaissa, Redray Frazier and Jenni Muldaur, and a trio of hoofers. On many tunes, the vocalists and dancers, and sometimes Byrne, turned in a series of dance routines that were uniformly invigorating and creative, decidedly modern with nods to both theatrical and experimental influences.

The effect, with the entire troupe dressed in white and Byrne out front, topped with a shock of white hair, toting a Stratocaster, and putting body and soul into the performance, was mesmerizing. Cool detachment was out, and a warm sense of connection with the audience was in. Byrne even opened with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor: “It’s a set menu,” he promised. “No substitutions. I’ll be your waiter. My name’s Dave.”

The music, an exuberantly played mix of songs from the new CD, several Talking Heads albums, and the 1981 Byrne/Eno collaboration My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, kicked off with the new “Strange Overtones,” all low-riding bass and percussion groove, and squiggly synthesizer lines erupting during the instrumental break. Heads tune “I Zimbra,” with the dancers making their entrance, jumping, clapping, twisting and kicking, was followed by the electric-acoustic guitars, loping beat and gospel-edged textures of “One Fine Day.” “Help Me Somebody” (from Ghosts), with its subdued funk and found sounds, led into a tune that prompted the first of several standing ovations — an invigorating performance of the Heads’ “Houses in Motion,” replete with invigorating call-and-response singing, deep, percolating grooves, keyboard-generated sound effects and another round of jaw-dropping dance moves by Lily Baldwin, Natalie Kuhn and Steven Reker.

Those first five tunes were followed by 15 more (including three encores). The group, to the obvious delight of an audience that quickly surrendered to the music’s summons to dance, offered plenty of Heads favorites — “Heaven,” with its open-wide chorus and five-part vocal harmonies; the irresistible gospel drive and exquisite tension and release of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”; “Crosseyed and Painless,” all chunky funk, unison vocals and whammy-bar guitar; the hypnotic “Once in a Lifetime” and “Life During Wartime”; and, late in the show, an aptly incendiary workout on “Burning Down the House.”

The new material was compelling and well received, too, and, as if to prove a point, Byrne closed the concert with “Everything That Happens,” a lush, slow-moving ballad built on chiming, air-hanging guitars, the leader’s fragile, vulnerable sounding vocals and big, gospel-edged background vocals. “Everything that happens will happen today/and nothing has changed, but nothing’s the same,” he sang, perhaps suggesting a thing or two about his approach to music/performance — carefully and artfully designed but always marked by in-the-moment appeal and spontaneous musical eruptions.

Byrne, at this point, has nothing left to prove. Still, at 58, he continues to give every performance as if it were going to be the one that defined his career. Yet again, he has delivered one of the year’s most memorable pop tours.

Susan Tedeschi (slight return)

Susan Tedeschi - Back to the River

As promised, here’s more about fast-rising singer and blues guitarist Tedeschi, who’s joining slide-guitar wizard Derek Trucks for a Soul Stew Revival show Dec. 29 at Tampa Theatre. Yes, they’re married to each other.

Great new tunes from Susan Tedeschi, on her Back to the River CD.

Click here to read my review at Las Vegas City Life, or see the full text below.

Susan Tedeschi

Back to the River (Verve Forecast)

“Revolutionize Your Soul,” arriving about two-thirds through Boston-born singer and guitarist Susan Tedeschi’s latest CD, is a real peak, a feel-good mixture of blues, R&B and gospel. Riding a rising tide of horns, she applies gritty vocals — think early Bonnie Raitt — to a tale of spiritual (albeit non-religious) renewal, and lets husband Derek Trucks in for a few bars of slide-guitar scorch. The tune’s crescendo is followed by a laidback chill-out section.

That’s just one of the rootsy treats on a set of music, including catchy first single “True,” that is deeply bluesy but accessible enough to suggest hot prospects for a crossover.

Tedeschi, whose vocals sound significantly more mature and lived-in than ever, branches out this time, with songwriting credits on 10 of the 11 tracks here. She collaborated with Trucks on the Southern-fried psychedelic soul of “Butterfly,” another track bolstered by the latter’s stinging lines, and worked with Gary Louris on the rangy “Learning the Hard Way,” which variously hints at Santana and pop-Americana a la The Jayhawks.

A tricky fuzz-guitar line anchors the swampy funk of Allen Toussaint’s “There’s a Break in the Road,” splashed with electric piano and horns. Tedeschi, sounding seriously re-energized, dives deep on Back to the River, handily.

(This post originally appeared on my OTHER blog, ScribeLife)

Winter Concert Picks: David Byrne, Derek Trucks/Susan Tedeschi, Galactic

Some folks around the Tampa Bay area are practically swooning in anticipation over several just-announced early 2009 shows by big pop and big hat acts.

Who’s coming?

  • Britney Spears, still cute, still annoying, still irrelevant (3/8, St. Pete Times forum);
  • Jessica Simpson, same as Britney (Florida Strawberry Festival);
  • Elton John/Billy Joel, once formidable pop/rock artists long off to other interests but back on the cash-grab trail (3/5, SPT Forum);
  • Fast-rising teen country star Taylor Swift (also Strawberry Fest).

Yawn. It’s all enough to make me elated that I’m no longer forced to consume standard-issue pop and rock for a living.

It’s a good bet that musical intrigue and non-rote performances will be in much greater supply at three under-publicized shows this month and next.

David Byrne, the former Talking Heads head, brings his “Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno” tour to Tampa Theatre on Dec. 12. He’s touring in support of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his first collaboration in nearly three decades with Brian Eno. Byrne’s work has remained vital and creative over the years, and his shows at Tampa Theatre have been among the area’s best concerts.

Reviews of the tour, which has Byrne and his four-piece band (keys, drums, bass, percussion) joined by three backup singers and three dancers, have been positive.

Jonathan Valaria, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, had this to say about a November show:

“David Byrne got his first of countless standing ovations Saturday night just five songs into his set at the Tower Theater, where he closed out the North American run of his ambitious tour in support of Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his splendid second collaboration with Brian Eno.

Not surprisingly, the ovation was occasioned by the first Talking Heads song of the night – “Houses In Motion” from Remain in Light – but it was more than just a beloved old song that elicited such a response from the crowd, which, much like the 56-year-old Byrne, straddled the fulcrum of middle age.

No doubt drawing on lessons learned from his collaboration with choreographer extraordinaire Twyla Tharp, Byrne created a show that uses bodies in motion to advance the ambiguous narratives of his arty, multicultural rock music.

Byrne – looking fit, trim and sporting a magnificent shock of silver hair – sounded in fine voice and handled all guitar duties with surprising aplomb, expertly replicating the pneumatic wheeze of chords on “Home,” the angular funk-strum of “Crosseyed And Painless” and the molten leads of ‘I Feel My Stuff.’ ”

Also certain to be among the highlights of the winter concert season:

  • Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew Revival (Dec. 29, Tampa Theatre), a bluesy, jammy, funky collaboration between the Allman Brothers’ slide-guitar wizard and his wife, an impressive blues guitarist and singer-songwriter in her own right.
  • New Orleans funk/jam stars Galactic, with the Lee Boys (Jan. 2, Jannus Landing). Galactic’s grooves are deep and funky, and they often inject experimental sounds and hip-hop rhythms into the mix. I’ve seen the band upteen times, in the Tampa Bay area and in New Orleans, and I’ve only been disappointed when they’ve let guest rappers or singers hog the show. Not sure yet what’s up for this tour.