Wayne Shorter/JLCO review – bravura and cool as jazz giant comes to town

Wynton Marsalis’s spirited and long-running Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra often devote their shows to the legacies of pioneers, late or living – but they could hardly have picked a more charismatic guest for the opening night of their current Barbican residency. The work of Wayne Shorter, the 82 year-old saxophonist with a sound as unique as a thumbprint and one of jazz’s greatest small-band composers, was hailed on Thursday in a series of offbeat mini-concertos in which he was principal improvising soloist.

This was a tough call, because Shorter’s idea of variation on a theme is still cliffhangingly loose, and even the hippest 15-piece big band has trouble lane-changing fast. But after some tentative rangefinding, the show did memorable justice to a giant. Shorter’s ghostly hoots initially sounded homeless amid the band’s city-slicker trumpet riffs and Marsalis’s elegantly nimble improv on the opening Yes or No, but the star quickly settled into a typically cryptic solo of wriggling runs, secretive murmurs, fleeting squeals and dead halts.

Lost, from the 1965 Soothsayers album, featured one of several convivial dialogues between Shorter and articulate JLCO pianist Dan Nimmer. The insistent bassline and interlocking hooks of Endangered Species revealed the rhythmic changes in Shorter’s 1980s thinking after his Weather Report years, and the beautiful Infant Eyes was shrewdly framed by Marsalis as an orthodox big-band ballad. ESP, Shorter’s classic for the Miles Davis quintet, mixed bravura and cool swing in Ali Jackson’s version, and a Charles Mingus-like Armageddon combined soulful earthiness, a slow-burn Shorter tenor break and some blues-steeped trumpet from arranger Marcus Printup. Late on, Shorter’s 1959 uptempo bebopper Mama G found its composer laconically at ease on tenor, and featured an astonishingly poised trombone solo from Elliot Mason. The star’s ethereal qualities were perhaps a little steamrollered, but Marsalis and the JLCO nonetheless heartwarmingly welcomed and celebrated a jazz muse as uncliched and independent as Thelonious Monk’s.

• LCJO members mentor a UK youth-band concert at the Barbican Friday 19 February. Wynton Marsalis and the JLCO play a closing Gershwin night on Saturday 20 February.

by John Fordham
Source: The Guardian

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