Care to comment?

You can read comments, or leave your own by clicking on the circle directly to the left of each post, just beneath the date




The All Seeing Eye

  • 1
Wayne Shorter As Composer
April 16, 2010

Over the last half century, saxophonist Wayne Shorter has penned an impressive body of work that has established him as one the most preeminent composers within the jazz idiom. His evocative songwriting employs drama, atmosphere, and a surprising use of space and harmonic innovation, and within those songs, his expressive, probing solos carry with them a simple elegance and sense of economy that make his music at once sensuous, cerebral and extremely compelling.
With 'The All Seeing Eye,' I intend to showcase what I believe are some of Shorter's finest compositions dating from 1964 to the present day. The selections however will focus exclusively on his solo recordings, excluding material which was written for the likes of Art Blakey, Miles Davis and Weather Report, ensembles in which he participated either as a sideman (Blakey, Davis), or a co-leader (Weather Report). Some may take issue with this decision, as Shorter contributed many outstanding pieces to the repertoire of the aforementioned units, but he has revisited some of those songs within his own recordings, and a few (i.e.: 'Footprints,' 'Water Babies' and 'Orbits') are included here. Perhaps adding insult to injury, I have additionally chosen not to include any of Shorter's fully electric ensembles, effectively discounting several decades of his work, primarily his recordings from the 1980's and 90's (his 70's output with Weather Report notwithstanding). So how can this be considered a comprehensive overview? Well quite honestly it's not, but then comprehensiveness is not my objective.

Shorter served notice as a rare genius with composition early in his career, and his songwriting has remained consistently superb throughout the years. What has varied more so is his playing, with a shift from tenor to soprano, and the development of a more economical style that often flirts with the melody rather than fully embracing it. Shorter's songwriting chops are evident enough no matter where one looks, so it then stands to reason that if you like what you hear in his solo work, you'll no doubt find equally satisfying examples within his contributions for others. It's my hope that this mix will encourage you to further explore his cannon (solo or otherwise) in your own self-guided quest for discovery.
Along with his harmonic sophistication, what makes Shorter's compositions so absorbing is how modal and free improvisation merge over a rhythmic looseness that never seems to lose its inherent sense of swing. Miles Davis once said of Shorter, Wayne brought in a kind of curiosity about working with musical rules. If they didn’t work, then he broke them, but with a musical sense; he understood that freedom in music was the ability to know the rules in order to bend them to your satisfaction and taste. Wayne was always out there on his own plane, orbiting around his own planet. Everybody else in the band was walking down here on earth…”

An interesting example of Shorter's use of harmony occurs in 'Twelve More Bars To Go,' wherein he injects a harmony that sounds like a backward progression within the standard 12 bar form, thereby breaking the form and comically depicting an individual who is slightly shit-faced, staggering along three sheets to the wind, taking two steps back for every five steps forward. Melody also plays an important role in Shorter's compositions, as does the importance of space, but again, it's the harmonic finesse of his arrangements that often work to make his small groups sound like much larger ensembles.

In the late sixties, as a result of his involvement with Miles Davis' move toward electric instrumentation, Shorter switched from tenor to soprano sax, an instrument he found better suited to the electronic timbre of the band's sound. However in doing so, he also found a startling new voice for himself, expressiveness with economy. It's an approach no doubt gleaned from his years of sharing the stage with Davis who always managed to say 'more with less.’ Shorter then dropped the tenor entirely for several decades, effectively distancing himself from the 'Coltrane' comparisons that had previously dogged him once and for all. In recent years however, his music has moved back into the acoustic arena. Now having mastered both instruments, he utilizes the two seamlessly in his new material.

The last element of Shorter's songwriting that deserves mention is its spiritual quality. As a practicing Buddhist, Shorter possesses a unique inquisitiveness and focus, traits that obviously trickle down through his music. Even before embracing Buddhism, Shorter expressed himself saying, "You can't divorce music from life. I have a need to relate my music to the way in which I respond to life around me. I look forward to a day when we will come to a period of total enlightenment, a time in which we'll discover who we are and why we're here." In his 1965 recording, 'The All Seeing Eye,' Shorter moved into the mystic with a suite of music putting forth the contemplation of God pondering his creation, melding the mystical with the metaphysical, and taking Coltrane's meditative concepts almost into the realm of theological questioning. Shorter expounds further stating, "Life is so mysterious to me. I can't stop at any one thing and say, 'Oh, this is what it is.' It's always evolving, always becoming. That's the adventure, and imagination is a part of that adventure." For my money, so is the music of Wayne Shorter.