For decades, composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter has led one of the more impressive quartets in jazz. With pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade, the 85-year-old saxophonist has explored the connections between chamber music and jazz. This band rehearses on-stage, creating innovative architectures via in-the-moment dialogue and improvising with unbridled freedom that never gives way to excess.
Wayne Shorter has released just four albums since 2002, all with the quartet of relatively young hotshots he formed only a couple of years earlier. By comparison, during one particularly productive span in the mid-'60s, the saxophonist issued seven now-canonical records in three years, even as he composed and performed at a furious pace with Miles Davis' classic second quintet. But the purpose of Shorter's current ensemble--a fierce and finessed assemblage, with Brian Blade on drums, Danilo Pérez on piano, and John Patitucci on bass--was never to put out easy records.
Once you've pretty much conquered everything else, you might as well go multiversal. Or at least that plan works if you're Wayne Shorter. The composer/saxophonist's 20th album as a bandleader, Emanon moves through dimensions and times with a surprising fluidity. That the album includes three discs and a graphic novel gives it unusual heft, but Shorter's construction of the segments provides insight into his recent era, particularly stemming from 2013's Without a Net.
I n his youth, saxophonist Wayne Shorter used to travel with his trumpeter brother, Alan, carrying instrument cases labelled Mr Weird and Mr Strange. Even then, the clues to his idiosyncratic art were already showing. The now 85-year-old Newark-born improviser/composer has since drawn on many sources - collaborations with Art Blakey and Miles Davis, devotion to Sonny Rollins, Buddhism, classical music, sci-fi, and much more - to sustain a career as a creative giant of jazz for almost 60 years.
During a 2015 interview with pianist Ethan Iverson, Wayne Shorter, the great tenor saxophonist and composer, was asked about the sound he helped create in the Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s. Shorter has a penchant for giving oblique answers to straightforward questions; a lifelong science fiction fan, he responded by quoting the famous mission statement from "Star Trek": "Boldly go where no man has gone before." "Like leaving what you know and not being afraid," Shorter continued. "How're you going to rehearse that? How do you rehearse the unknown?" That is a pithy description of Shorter's own musical journey, especially in the 21st century.