Sunday, March 22, 2015

At the Palladium, the Wayne Shorter Quartet displays as fine a group rapport as you'll find in today's jazz

Ever since the triumph of bop more than six decades ago, the center of jazz on small-group interaction has given rise to several generations of musicians thoroughly adaptable to any bandstand configuration involving a handful of like-minded colleagues.

So, what the Wayne Shorter Quartet has exhibited so far in the 21st century is not different in kind from the expert norm. What was confirmed Saturday night at the Palladium is its higher degree of simpatico music-making in the quartet format. Leaping arcs of energy could be sensed throughout the performance, even if the direction was sometimes confusing until viewed in retrospect.

Arcs of energy: Brian Blade, Wayne Shorter, Danilo Perez and John Patitucci
With bandmates Danilo Perez, piano; John Patitucci, bass, and Brian Blade, drums, the 81-year-old saxophonist laid out 90 minutes of distinctive music. The telepathy was nonstop. With this durable personnel, Shorter has built on the famous aesthetic of Weather Report, of which he was co-founder with keyboardist Joe Zawinul: Everyone solos and no one solos — all the time.

In other words, the ensemble rules continuously, with each member so secure among the others that he can branch out with bursts of individualistic display that somehow don't threaten the integrity of the whole. The focus was unrelenting: The group offered about a half-dozen tunes, taking no intermission and making no announcements.

Comparing Shorter's stamina and consistency as the group's inspiration and senior member with the quartet's recordings over the past 15 years, some decline was evident Saturday night. But the characteristic sound and the invitingly cryptic phrasing were still in force, and far from a shadow of their old selves. The wonderful sound he gets on tenor, wispy and generally high-register, sustained the career-long extension Shorter has made on Lester Young; the soprano tone favors more piercing, trumpet-like sonorities, sometimes evoking (again, in sound, not style) Sidney Bechet, but without the vibrato.

Until the encore, almost everything the group played eschewed getting into a groove. I'm not so much of a moldy fig as to insist it's not jazz if it doesn't obviously swing, but the Wayne Shorter Quartet is capable of swinging to the utmost. And it would have been satisfying to catch a little more willingness to go in that direction. Still, remaining out-of-tempo (sometimes called "rubato") for many minutes at a time ensured that an apparently dreaded hierarchy could be avoided: drummer as timekeeper, with bass providing the harmonic foundation upon which the piano erects a viable structure for the saxophone to surmount. That's not the Wayne Shorter Quartet way.

With all things literally being equal, one could thus appreciate Blade's alternation of subtlety with startling bass-drum "bombs" and pistol shots on snare and toms. Patitucci's rhapsodic style got a full outing, as usual, including strong, in-tune arco playing. And Perez exhibited his marvelous variety as a crafter of sweet fragments of melody, a rhythmic powerhouse and a master of powerful chords, often linked together in stunning sequences.

There can't be too many more years for this four-way marvel to be active, and it should be stressed that the leader still has lots to say on the evidence of this concert. In his ninth decade, Shorter can't be faulted for banking his fires somewhat. He still sends up enough flares to be worth paying attention to.

[Photo credit: Dorsay Alavi]