Really, with a player as great as tenor and soprano sax giant Wayne Shorter, you could carve out a few songs from just about any concert by any group he’s been involved in and you’re going to witness sublime musicianship. He is, in my opinion, the greatest living saxophonist, and this DVD, which features Shorter playing with three different groups at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1991, ’92 and ’96, shows his amazing range as a player, composer and bandleader. (A different Montreux DVD showcases his work with Weather Report, still his most famous association outside of his time with Miles Davis.)
The ’96 performance dominates the disc. Fronting a quintet that includes ex-Weather Report bass titan Alphonso Johnson, guitarist David Gilmore (not the Pink Floyd axe man; that’s “Gilmour”), keyboardist James Beard, and drummer Rodney Holmes, Shorter offers three stylistically divergent tunes from his then-current album—the Grammy-winning High Life—and two from his ’80s output. Shorter and Johnson mesh beautifully on the opener, “On the Milky Way Express,” and indeed it is Johnson (who has lived, unfairly, in the shadow of Jaco Pastorius) that often provides the spark that kicks this band into overdrive. But they’re all excellent players, and they share that intuitive gift that takes a collection of virtuosos and turns them into a real band. I’m not wild about the funky “Children of the Night,” but the other selections are wonderful. And though my own personal preference when it comes to Shorter’s playing is “more soprano, please!” (no one is more evocative on that instrument), the range he shows on tenor over the course of this DVD is stunning.
The groups on the bonus tracks actually have more “star power” that the ’96 band. On a couple of tracks from ’91, Shorter is joined by keyboardist Herbie Hancock (also an alum of Miles’ group), another fabulous bass player in Stanley Clarke (who plays both acoustic and electric here), and former Weather Report drummer Omar Hakim. They offer a different take on “On the Milky Way Express,” as well a fine version of Shorter’s oft-covered “Footprints” (from 1966’s Miles Smiles). The ’92 group was put together as a tribute to one of Miles’ classic quintets, and includes Shorter, Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Tony Williams and, in the Miles slot, Wallace Roney. The sound here is, by design, a bit of a throw-back, but the chemistry is palpable and there’s nothing old-fashioned about the way these masters look for new ways to express themselves. The version of “Pinocchio” (which Shorter wrote for Miles’ 1967 Nefertiti album) is particularly stirring.
As with every release I’ve seen from the Montreux archives, both sound and visuals are fantastic.
Director: Gavin Taylor. Recording: Justin Shirley-Smith.
Okay, so who’s better than Wayne Shorter? Write me at [email protected].