Review Summary: Of haunting beauty.
Sharing three members of Davis’ second great quintet, this recording took place concurrently with Wayne Shorter’s tenure under Miles. This was before the fusion days of Bitches Brew, prior to the ten Grammy awards and various Shorter compositions being anointed as jazz standards. Speak no Evil can provide an answer to why the above accolades were to follow.
In its own right, this album can justify a place amongst the great post bop outings of the 1960s. There’s a twist though, verifying Shorter’s priorities, thus, differentiating him from many of his contemporaries; for Shorter the basis of composition comes first… Indeed, the melodies might sound simple when examined out of context, as density is provided by suspension of notes rather than concentrated and populous lines. Regarding his blue note recordings, it became evident why Shorter needed to have his own project after The Jazz Messengers, aside being an integral part of Davis’ quintet. This session did clarify why he should not be referred to as a Coltrane derivative.
In Speak no Evil he clearly stated his own terms, his vision; the unorthodox cadences and root movements beneath the spacious, inviting melodies. A machination of form and structure in such an effective way that leaves you enchanted, on the verge of knowing what’s going on and feeling moonstruck. He will bring you back when the interplay between the horn section and Herbie Hancock provides an earthly bluesy feel; he will push you the other way yet again as the substrate turns fluid. Ron Carter on bass and Elvin Jones on drums are quintessential to the project, as they provide a meticulously pliable space - the board - on which you swing gently between the two aforementioned streams.
The improvisations take place on the same board as well. Freddie Hubbard on trumpet links Shorter to his Art Blakey days, while his tenor and Hancock give a primer on what will follow. The hull is set to bend not break, so you can always get on board; either you are a jazz fan intrigued by new quartal appliances or one who glances at the picture on the sleeve not knowing who that cat is. Yes, these waters are eerie, yet universally appealing, perhaps a hint unsettling in order to match the cover and thematic of the record, but do not worry… Wayne Shorter and Co won’t let you fall.
Still I wonder… how can this pliancy retain its consistency throughout" In fact, this is one of these rare cases in which an album sounds as a whole piece of music, not a collection of tunes. Maybe one should think of Miles’ words on why he so eagerly wanted Shorter to join his second great quintet: “Wayne is a real composer. He writes scores, write the parts for everybody just as he wants them to sound… Wayne also brought in a kind of curiosity about working with musical rules. If they didn't work, then he broke them, but with musical sense; he understood that freedom in music was the ability to know the rules in order to bend them to your own satisfaction and taste."
A classic piece of haunting beauty, a gathering of giants… an essential listen.