At recent Paris concerts Benny Golson, Geri Allen and Chico Freeman all identified the composer of numbers they’d just performed as “the great Wayne Shorter.” Given his historic role in contemporary music, the adjective is fully deserved. A longtime member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ extraordinary second quintet, saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter also took part in the classic Blue Note recording sessions and co-founded the rock-fusion band Weather Report with Joe Zawinul. Shorter was in Paris last month to promote an exceptional two-concert gig, November 8 at New Morning and his first CD with Verve. I caught up with him in his suite at the Ritz, an appropriate setting since his new record’s entitled “High Life.”
Shorter seems like a meditative man, given to philosophical asides on Buddhism, crime and what he sees as a tendency by American youth to impulsively seize that which ought to be acquired through concentrated effort. The same contemplative aspect he brought to the interview lies behind the origins of his latest CD. ” ‘High Life’ evolved by me taking the time, 18 months ago, to just listen to music, read books and watch movies. After that period of time, I started to write music I knew would be aimed at having many people involved.” Forty, to be precise, with 30 members of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, and a band that includes Marcus Miller, who also produced, on bass and Rachel Z on keyboards. The result is an album marked by expressive, spatially open sax solos and a caressing undertow, with sultry bossa currents and funky riffs, that insinuates its way into your consciousness until it becomes cumulatively almost irresistible.
Like all innovators, Shorter has enthusiastically integrated the latest technology into the creative process, using synthesizers “as a sketch pad, then playing the music I wrote into a computer.” The other musicians brought their ideas to the recording sessions and he expects them to do the same on tour. “I’m getting too old to do all the work,” he says with a laugh. Not true. Shorter looks easily 15 years younger than 62, and his playing, particularly on soprano sax, is as eloquent as ever.
I ask about his famous definition of jazz: no category. Is it really possible for jazz to accept everything? “Very often it is only with hindsight that we can understand where this music came from or what that music was leading to. Looking back we can see origins that were not necessarily evident at the time the music was being played. Except for maybe Charlie Parker. Where he came from remains something of a mystery, although I have some ideas on the subject. …I do feel that the importance of some of the music being played today will only become apparent in the next century. Then we will look back and we will say, ‘Yes…’ ”
Wayne Shorter, New Morning, 7, rue des Petites Ecuries, 10e, Mº Château d’Eau, 8pm & 10:30pm, tel: 126.96.36.199.
American pianist and composer Joel Forrester has established himself as one of the world’s leading accompanists of silent films. Forrester, who divides his time between New York and Paris, also has a reputation as an excellent stride and ragtime pianist. A lesser-known side to his many talents is that of contemporary jazz pianist. There’s an edgy, subtle grace to his playing, offset by a nervy humor, and he should be heard at his best when he brings his quartet, which includes saxman Steve Potts, to the Café Houdon in Montmartre on November 24 & 25.
Joel Forrester, Café Houdon, 5, rue des Abbesses, 18e, Mº Abbesses, 10pm, tel: 46.06.35.91.