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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wayne's Magical World

I went to see Wayne Shorter’s quartet last night, the now classic band that he’s had for more than 10 years. This is the second time I’ve seen them, and it was equally as good as the first. There’s something magical about this band. They’ve received a lot of praise and recognition over the last several years and they absolutely deserve it – and more. Watching them in action last night, I witnessed something quite unique – there’s nobody really doing what these guys do.

First of all, the music is so abstract, yet they are playing forms and structures. It’s free, yet it’s tied to the jazz conventions of melody and harmonic structure. They have a repertoire, but no set programme – sometimes compositions appear, are touched upon, only to disappear again. At other times a piece is explored for more than twenty minutes. There are solos of a kind, yet they are all collective – for a moment it seems one or the other of the quartet will be soloing, only for one or more of the other members to become involved and take over.

Over the course of the performance the music evolves organically in front of your eyes. I HATE to use this cliché, but in this case it’s absolutely the correct one -  at a concert by the Wayne Shorter Quartet, you are taken on a journey. The performance last night began in what seemed to be unfocussed meandering, with each member fluttering in an out of the music. It was hard to grasp any underlying or unifying structure, and you could be forgiven for believing that the band were unable to find any kind of forward motion, and were just noodling. But slowly, yet inevitably, the music began to become both more cohesive and yet mutate into something else. As a listener you got the sense of some greater structure rising out of the four constituent parts, yet being unable to put your finger on how this was being done.

And this is the magic of this band – the way they can collectively create something singular that is comprised of the four constituent parts. Something that is not pre-conceived, yet can attain the most formal structure, a structure that is created by the free-flowing narrative of the band. It’s an extraordinary balancing act, and one that can only be achieved by a) a band that has been together for this long, b) has such great virtuoso musicians within it, and c) is led by a genius….

And Wayne really is a genius, under even the strictest meaning of that overused word. Apart from the compositions themselves, his ability to guide the band simply by what he plays is extraordinary. His timing is perfect, his entry and exit points are masterful. And the choice of notes…… his ability to play such unexpected notes in relation to the underlying harmony, yet always remain lyrical is unique – nobody else can do this like he can.

And the band are perfect – Danilo Perez almost seems like the MD, free to start something, or suggest something or take the music in any direction he wants. Wayne allows him to do this, yet, by dint of his playing, remains in complete control of the ultimate direction of  the music. Brian Blade is the dramaturge in the band – his use of dynamics thoroughly energises the music, and when he really gets going, it’s one of the greatest sights in contemporary jazz drumming. And John Patitucci is the unsung hero of this band. The way he interweaves his lines with the other guys, while holding the bass function down is masterful. He knows exactly when to go and when to stay. When Blade slips off the metric grid in one of those blazing attacks, Patitucci will fix it in a split second. He is a virtuoso bassist who puts his virtuosity completely at the service of the music

Wayne is 80 this year and still looks and sounds strong, with no seeming diminution of his powers. But all humans are mortal and so if you get a chance to see this group – a group that will definitely be spoken of as one of the great bands of jazz history – you should go, and avail of the opportunity to see something unique and magical. The following video clip gives just a glimpse (but only a glimpse), of what will be in store for you.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Orrin Evans!

How could I have missed out on the music of Orrin Evans for so long!? Yes I was aware of his name, I knew he was a member of Tarbaby along with Eric Revis and Nasheet Waits, both of whom I'm very familiar with. I also knew he was the leader of the highly regarded Captain Black Big Band, but somehow, I'd never checked him out. And I think it's true to say that on this side of the Atlantic he's not so well known  - certainly in comparison to some other pianists. But having listened intently for the first time last night, I've come to realise that this guy is a major contemporary jazz pianist and I can't believe I've missed out on his music for so long.

But the one good thing on missing out on something good, is that you get the pleasure of real discovery, and this is what happened last night when, on an iTunes browse, I came across his trio recording 'Flip the Script' - and what a recording it is......

Evans plays with Ben Wolfe on bass and Donald Edwards on drums, in a programme of mostly his own compositions, and it's a powerful and creative piece of work, full of things to admire. In a time when so much contemporary jazz features medium tempo, straight 8s, vaguely melancholy pieces, the sheer variety of this trio recording is very refreshing. Both ends of the tempo spectrum are explored extensively, and it's so bracing to hear both very fast tempos and very slow tempos being played fearlessly, and with such panache. One of the reasons that musicians don't play these tempos so much is because they're both really hard to do! Evans' trio eat up the challenge of this and pretty much everything else. Evans creates very interesting compositions, all of which have some wrinkle or other that differentiates them from the run of the mill jazz ditties that are so often churned out in this idiom. And they really swing - burning jazz piano trio playing of the first rank.

There's one other little kink in this recording that i really enjoy, and that is, strangely enough, that the piano is not the best instrument I've ever heard. It's definitely suffering in some places, but somehow that works for the recording, giving it a kinship with earlier piano recordings where it was not always possible to get a perfect instrument for your recording  - try McCoy's 'Ebony Queen' as an example of what I'm talking about. Not that the Evans recording's piano is as jangly as that on the McCoy recording, and I'm sure most pianists would always want the best piano they can get, but somehow that edginess to the piano adds to the cutting edge of the music - especially on the uptempo pieces. At least to me!

Having listened to this recording it's a mystery to me how I could have missed out on Evans for so long - after all he's very highly regarded in the US and is Grammy nominated, placed second in the Monk competition etc. - but somehow his star is lower here than it should be. Hopefully that will be rectified soon -  I know my lack of knowledge of his work is going to be rectified immediately!

Here he is talking about 'Flip the Script' - if you haven't checked Orrin Evans out already and you love great jazz piano playing, then do yourself a favour and have a listen