Wayne Shorter, Barbican, London
The great philosopher
Wednesday 02 April 2003
Wayne Shorter is the kind of man who's incapable of giving a straight answer. So thoughtful and laconic is he, that if you asked him whether he wanted one sugar or two in his tea it would probably provoke a "well...". So many questions to consider: should it be brown sugar, luxuriantly crumbling off the spoon, or the harsher, refined white variety, compacted into a cube? What is the philosophical status of sugar? And do we have the right to subject it to immersion in scalding hot water? By the time he answers the tea's long gone cold.
So it was no surprise that Shorter's concert at the Barbican consisted of long, multi-sectioned numbers – the first lasted 40 minutes before the quartet came up for air. They were never rambling, though. Shorter's group – Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on double bass and Brian Blade on drums – are some of the most focused and accomplished players of their generations, all several decades younger than Shorter, who's nearly 70, but like Herbie Hancock, his fellow member of Miles's second quintet, seemingly preserved in his forties by some magical elixir.
They're a very finely balanced ensemble, Patitucci's firm, energetic playing the motor of the band, freeing Perez to sprinkle notes here and there, sometimes building up into such a frenzy it was as if his grand piano was teetering on the edge of a cliff and gravity's pull could only be defied by an ever more urgent stream of notes from the Panamanian.
In parts of the opening number the quartet travelled through a cinematic landscape, an urban riff from Patitucci signalling decaying, built-up areas, past burnt out wrecks, and then out, further, a folky passage taking us into broad valleys where cool waters met a summer haze. Blade's cymbal work – particularly on a loose-rivetted ride cymbal – filtered through like pollen-laden air above near-still brooks.
And then it was back to the city with the return of the urban riff, Blade by now driven and angry, the scatter-gun hits to his kit so hard that at one point he knocked over one of his floor toms. Above the rhythm section, Shorter, leaning back into the curve of the piano, ventured forth, alternating tenor and soprano saxophones. He concentrates, placing the horn in his mouth and waiting, waiting, to contribute just one note. He considers adding more, his horn poised; and then puts it down.
When he is ready, he launches into longer sentences, perhaps wielding the full power he has on the tenor, or producing a tone so gorgeous on the soprano that one imagines the metal to have been dipped in butter. However much freedom this quartet appears to have, the structure keeps emerging out of the mist. Sometimes you can only see a bit of it, while the rest is hidden in vaporous swirls. At others, the whole is on display, only to retreat again after a brief, glorious statement.
Shorter is like a lone stranger who has a tale to tell many will not understand – how could we, we who have not journeyed where he has, have not seen what he has? That does not detract from the power of his message, even if we only gain glimpses of it. And as for the sugar question: who says he drinks tea anyway?
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rihanna 'nude photos' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 Frank Lampard equalises for Manchester City against Chelsea: how the internet reacted
- 3 Stamford Hill council removes 'unacceptable' posters telling women which side of the road to walk down
- 4 Kim Kardashian 'nude pictures' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence 'The Fappening' scandal
- 5 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, review: Revolution still seems far off
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
Foo Fighters: 2015 tour dates announced for Sonic Highways
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God