'The delicacy of Shorter's playing was left to go hang as power- chord followed pomp-rock-chord sequence'

Wayne Shorter Royal Festival Hall, London
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The Independent Online
A member of three of the greatest jazz groups of the century, saxophonist Shorter is hardly short of breeding. At 62 years of age, he is also indecently young-looking, and unless the copious application of Grecian 2000 was involved, his hair is as dark and full as it was in publicity shots taken 30 years ago. That Shorter is shorter than one imagines is also the case, and when he first took the stage, the couple behind me cooed demonstratively at his striking lack of inches. The big, full-bodied sound of his tenor sax prepares you for a man-mountain physique, but Wayne is, like Johnny Griffin, a little giant - 5ft 5in at most, and a good 3ft around the middle.

He's also something of an enigma. After four years with Art Blakey's Messengers, six with Miles Davis, and a decade or so with Weather Report (the fusion group he formed with pianist Joe Zawinul in 1970), Shorter had assembled the kind of reputation that made him the most celebrated saxophonist of his generation, as well as finding time to write compositions such as "Footsteps", which are still played by jazz groups everywhere. Then he didn't do very much at all. His solo album of 1975, Native Dancer, opened up a second front for Brazilian fusion but subsequent sets failed to set the world alight and he has since become an infrequent star on the festival circuit, often in the company of Herbie Hancock or Stanley Clarke, where his performances have seemed unfocused and Shorter himself unusually enervated. It's as if, having made it, he didn't have anything left to prove, and has therefore spent a good part of the past 20 years coasting.

This closing show for the London Jazz Festival unveiled a new band with a new album to promote (High Life, Verve), and it certainly unleashed a new source of energy in Shorter. He played superbly on both tenor and soprano horns, and took up a fair proportion of the solo spotlight himself. The music, too, was all of a piece: tight, harmonically complex themes rather in the manner of Weather Report, progressing through myriad changes in which the interplay of Shorter's sax and David Gilmore's guitar sculpted great blocks of sound, winnowing away at the melody as if cutting into it with a power tool.

Unfortunately for many with a sensitive disposition, the resulting sound and fury didn't signify very much. The overloaded public address system muddied the finer points of the playing, with even the concert grand coming across as crass and overbearing, and the delicacy of Shorter's playing was left to go hang as power-chord followed pomp-rock-chord sequence throughout each over-extended number. There was no doubting Shorter's effort, nor the perfection of his technique, but where once, as on "Nefertiti", his great composition for Miles Davis, the blood of the infusion was new, pumped by the example of Sly Stone's funk, now it sounds a bit funk-by- numbers. Those still into the original recipe will have found much to enthuse about, but for the rest of us, it was perhaps too much, too loud and too late.

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