Wayne Short has done it all, it seems. Over the course of his now 86 years on this planet, the legendary saxophonist has released 26 albums, earned no less than 19 awards and worked with some of the music industry’s most respected figures, such as Miles Davis to Weather Report to Carlos Santana and Herbie Hancock. In May 2015, he added to that already long list of famed names even more when he joined the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis to perform some of his most beloved songs live. That performance, recorded during a three night stint at the Rose Theater in New York City, will be released Jan. 30 through Blue Engine Records in a new two-disc set. The archived live recording is a fitting tribute to Shorter and the music that he has crafted over the course of his decades-long career. That is proven in part through the recording’s featured set list, which will be discussed shortly. The collective’s performance of said set list adds even more appeal to the recording and will be addressed later. The recording’s production and mixing round out its most important elements. They will also be addressed later. When they are considered along with the recording’s set list and the performance thereof, the whole makes the recording in whole an easy, early candidate for any critic’s list of the year’s top new live recordings.
The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis’ latest live recording The Music of Wayne Shorter is a work that will appeal to Shorter’s fans just as much as it will to fans of the JLCO and jazz aficionados in general. That is due in no small part to the recording’s set list. The 10-song set list pulls from Shorter’s solo career as well as his work with other acts. Among the acts that he recorded with featured here are Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Wynton Kelly. The set list reaches as far back as 1961 and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ album Witch Doctor and as recently as 1985 with his solo album Atlantis. Also featured in the recording’s set list are works from Shorter’s 1964 album Night Dreamer (‘Armageddon) and his 1967 album Adam’s Apple (‘Teru’). Shorter’s work with Wynton Kelly shows up in the group’s performance of ‘Mama G,’ which was featured on Kelly’s 1959 album Kelly Great. Shorter’s work with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers gets the most representation in this recording, with three nods, including the already noted album Witch Doctor and its song ‘Lost and Found.’ Also featured in the recording from Shorter’s time with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers are the songs ‘Contemplation’ (taken from Buhaina’s Delight – 1963) and ‘Hammerhead’ (taken from Free For All – 1964). All things considered, the recording’s featured set list pulls from some of the strongest moments in Shorter’s expansive and successful career. This gives audiences but a brief look into his career, but at the same time, a strong starting point for those who may be less familiar with his catalog. For Shorter’s more seasoned audiences, it proves to be just as entertaining on its own merits. Keeping all of this in mind, the set list featured in The Music of Wayne Shorter creates a strong foundation for the recording. The performance by Shorter and company in this recording builds on that foundation, making the recording that much more appealing.
The performance of the set list featured in this recording is another reminder of why not only Shorter, but the LCJO, too is so respected. From start to finish, the musicians put on a collective performance that gives audiences so much to enjoy. The set’s opener ‘Yes Or No’ is just one example of the group’s ability to keep listeners engaged and entertained. The song stays mostly true to Shorter’s original work in its arrangement here. The only difference between the original six-and-a-half-minute opus and this work is that this take on the song is extended out a bit, but about four minutes. There is more improving taking place throughout. The thing is that every bit of that noted improving works. Shorter works wonders alongside the group’s drummer, who works just as expertly as he takes on legendary drummer Elvin Jones’ timekeeping here. The pianist who takes on McCoy Tyner’s piano line makes that line more subtle this time out than in the original work. What’s interesting to note is that despite this, that increased subtlety still makes the song work in its own right. Meanwhile, Shorter’s work on the sax is just as powerful and professional as ever here. He shows that even at his age at the time – he would have been between 81 and 82 at the time of the performance — he still was just as talented as he had been in his younger days. That is a testament to him and his abilities. When that is considered along with the talent of the JLCO’s musicians, the whole of the group’s performance makes that song just one example of why the orchestra’s performance here is crucial to the recording’s impact.
‘Contemplation,’ which comes a little later in the recording’s run, is yet another example of the importance of the group’s performance to the recording. Yet again, audiences get in this performance, a full tribute to the song’s source material (so to speak). Shorter’s work on the sax in this gentle, bluesy work is just as engaging as it was so many decades ago. The fluidity of the notes as the song progresses from its more reserved opening bars to its slightly more upbeat moments is just as solid as in the original work that Shorter recorded with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. The time keeping and the piano work here would make Blakey and pianist Cedar Walton proud. Taking into account those lines and the rest of the song’s elements, the whole of the song’s arrangement and performance here proves just as enjoyable as the song’s source material. It truly pays tribute to not only Shorter, but his then fellow musicians while also offering just as much for listeners to enjoy. It’s as if a musical time capsule has been opened after so many decades and the music has just flowed so freely from that container. That’s how enjoyable this performance is, just like with the recording’s other performances.
Much the same can be said of the group’s performance of ‘Teru’ that has been noted of the group’s other performances in this recording. The slow, gentle composition is just as powerful and moving in this 2015 recording as it was way back when. Shorter’s performance alone evokes so much emotion as it pulls listeners into the song. Meanwhile, the JLCO members add their own subtleties to the whole, making that original work that much more powerful, and easily one of the record’s highest points. It really shows in the end, that less really is more. When this is considered along with the rest of the recording’s performances, the whole of said performances makes the group’s overall performance just as powerful and important to the recording as the show’s set list.
Keeping in mind the importance of the group’s performance featured in this recording, the natural progression from there is to address the recording’s collective mixing and production. Throughout the course of the recording, the mixing and production proves expert in its own right. Every musician’s part is expertly balanced with one another in every song. The result is a performance that perfectly captures the essence of Shorter’s work while also once again putting on full display, the talents of the members of the JLCO. The only downside to the whole of the production comes at the end of the performance when the orchestra’s members are introduced. It would have been nice to have known who the musicians were, not having liner notes to work with. However, those introductions have to be played time and again throughout the work in order to catch each name. It would have been nice to have had Marsalis (or whomever conducted the introductions) mic’d up so that audiences could hear that part. While this does detract slightly from the production and mixing, it is hardly enough to make this recording unlistenable. To that end, the production and mixing in this recording is just as strong as the recording’s featured set list and the orchestra’s performance thereof. Keeping all of this in mind, everything noted here comes together to make The Music of Wayne Shorter a strong start to this year’s field of new live recordings and just as strong a start to the new year for Blue Engine Records and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s new live recording The Music of Wayne Shorter is another positive new live offering from the famed musical collective. It is a work that will appeal just as much to Shorter’s longtime fans as it will to jazz aficionados and those of the groups with whom Shorter has performed. That is due in part to the set list, which despite running only 10 songs, is still expansive in its own right. The group’s performance of said set list adds even more interest and appeal to the recording. The same can be said of the recording’s production and mixing. Each item noted is key in its own right to the whole of the recording. All things considered, they make the recording the first of this year’s top new live recordings. More information on this and other titles from Blue Engine Records is available online now at:
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