Review Summary: Freedom to roam.
The beauty about genres like avant-garde jazz is that they offer the musicians an open canvas. It offers a freedom from conventional harmonies, which indulges the artist with the ability to take their music not where it needs
to go, but where it wants
to go. There's a rhythmic flexibility that allows musicians to improvise under a less constraining environment. Wayne Shorter is no stranger to the experimental side of jazz such as the avant-garde, free, and modal scenes, and in fact, it's where his craftsmanship as at its most intuitive. Albums like The All Seeing Eye
are all about exploring different techniques with compositional methods, there's a lot of impromptu maneuvering happening in the songs, giving them a more heightened sense of spontaneity. His latest output, Without a Net
, is an expansion on that style, it doesn't really introduce any places he hasn't gone before, but it does showcase a stellar performance that offers the veteran saxophonist's signature flare.
Without a Net
captures the performances from a 2011 European tour with his latest quartet. This is an all acoustic set, and thus tends to alternate through styles like post-bop, modal, free jazz, and of course, avant-garde. With musicians like pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Pattitucci, and drummer Brian Blade at Wayne's disposal, he introduces new material and versions of older works throughout the concert as well as a few covers for added intrigue. The album kicks off with the quartet's rendition of "Orbit", originally from Miles Davis' Miles Smiles
. The song opens with Danilo Pérez playing the melodic theme from the piece, only with an almost menacing tone in the execution of his notes. The group initially takes its times with the tempo pace, rather than the 'get-up-and-go' attitude of the original. It isn't until Wayne Shorter steps in with some invigorating solo work, that Brian Blade begins to erupt in the background to stimulate the rhythm and elevates the piece into a display of instrumental ferocity. The album's modal spin of "Orbits" is definitely a far cry from the more bop-oriented style of the original, but it's a very intriguing interpretation because each musician has more space to roam and which inevitably makes their notes appear all the more organic and less mechanical.
"Starry Night" is where the quartet starts to focus on some conventional melodies, but even then, there's a more abstract agenda that drives their musical intentions. Danilo Pérez takes the spotlight for most of the song, and though his notes are restrained and exude a calming mood, his movements are mildly erratic in nature. He's not deliberately trying to convey an emotional ambience, that's not the purpose here, he's really just exploring the dynamics of the keyboards and manipulating the pace of the rhythm with his own direction. There's no real framework here, and in that sense it further expands on the 'free' concept of the album. Wayne Shorter's saxophone expressions, on the other hand, are more melodic. His notes are so exquisitely soothing to the ear, it's the kind of playing that you'd find in a jazz lounge as background music. Though the preference for melodic flow rather than strong rhythmic impact comes to a complete reverse during the later part of the song.
There's really not much to say about this concert in terms of Wayne Shorter's progression as an artist, he's still at the top of his game, but there's nothing here he hasn't already shown us in the past. Sure, it's always exciting to see him perform some harmonic explorations and rhythmic fluctuations, but after being exposed to the same modal executions and overall musical motifs that we've seen him venture through again and again during the acoustic days outside of his time with The Weather Report, his repertoire eventually gets rather predictable. The musicianship is still a spectacle of amazement though, no doubt about it. Luckily, Wayne Shorter & co. don't always sound stagnant throughout and actually get into plenty of compelling jams. The 23 minute epic, "Pegasus", is something that definitely shows off some breathtaking ingenuity, as it features exaggerated dynamics that constantly keep elevating the musical structures into new stylistic dimensions. "Pegasus" is actually a recording from Wayne Shorter's performance in Los Angeles where the quartet was expanded to a nonet with the five-piece, Imani Winds, thus giving the song an orchestral feel.
The opening segment of "Pegasus" exhibits Wayne Shorter's soprano expressions coalesced with various flute arrangements from Imani Winds. This is a very classically influenced section of the piece, it has a very light tone, and the wind instruments seem to feed off each other's synergy as they float along a dramatic melody. In the midsection, we start to see the band having a bit of fun with the piece as they start to enthusiastically push "Pegasus" back and forth from a beautiful array of sounds and into a technical setting that emphasizes on virtuosity. It's a very exciting centerpiece and if there was only one reason to pick up this album, "Pegasus" would be it. Overall, Without a Net
is yet another impressive addition to his already illustrious catalogue, but it's certainly nothing that is all that eminent. As I said before, there are some exceptional pieces to be found here, but they seemed to be wrapped in an all too familiar packaging. That isn't to say that this album is just a rehash of old tricks, it's just that it lacks anything that will come as a major surprise. But even still, it's inspiring to see Wayne Shorter yet to lose his grasp on the charismatic style that has made his albums so enticing. This is definitely a nostalgic offering to fans, something that takes us back to the revolutions that 'acoustic' jazz was going through in latter part of the 1950s to practically the entirety of the 1960s. In a nutshell, Without A Net
is an unconventional and adventurous album that embraces the nature of modal and avant-garde that blossomed a whole new perspective to the genre.