Review Summary: Discipline and instinct..JuJu
came to be during a period of great ascent for Wayne Shorter. Championed by Coltrane, he had recently been lured away from Art Blakey by Miles Davis to form a revitalized second coming of the Quintet. He quickly distinguished himself within the Quintet, and was known as the one composer whose arrangements the compulsive Davis almost never tweaked and re-strung. He’d stay alongside Davis for years, through hard- and post-bop and the first dives into fusion, cooking up an incredibly varied solo career along the way. The instantly recognizable soprano sax that builds the understated effusion on In A Silent Way
signaled Shorter’s own move into more experimental and boundary-less set.
The record was his second for Blue Note, following Night Dreamer
, and though there was little time separating the two albums, the chasm of maturity and personality developing between the two is starkly audible. Less airy and plaintive than Dreamer
captured an indelible mid-point between doe-eyed and purposeful, as brimming with detached idealism as it was with a posteriori
Despite the fact that comparisons to his teacher and mentor Coltrane swirled around him in perpetuity, by the time JuJu
was taking shape, Shorter was already establishing his own sound. And though the scarcity of scales he was using leant heavily towards Coltrane’s optative mood patterns, he managed to slip in plenty of the kind of volatile and yet controlled complexity that more daring composers like Monk were plying around the same period. Still, it’s hard not to notice the tonal similarities the tenor sax carries on “House of Jade,” a piece that’s waist-deep in Coltrane’s patented sound of calcified sentimentality.
“Twelve Bars to Go” and “JuJu” provide a much better showing of Shorter’s fingerprint. He partially moves out of a pointedly romantic mode, and lets the pieces breathe in chaotic binaries. Rich in alternating sustained tones and airtight, pentatonic soloing, this was Shorter’s proper claim as an arranger of his own, one that abandoned his mentor’s extravagant exercises in emotion for more nuanced and temperamental territory. His tenure as a music director with Art Blakey had also clearly brushed off on him, and he lets Elvin Jones, on-lend from Coltrane, go percussion-drunk here.
Reggie Workman’s double bass work is worthy of especial note. Meaty, and tautly in control, it forms JuJu
’s backbone, letting Shorter, Jones and Tyner spread their shoulders fully.
Shorter would go on recording for Blue Note, all the while helping Davis expand where jazz’ edges, already in chronic fluctuation, could go. By the time Speak No Evil
came around, he’d shape his own quintet, with Hancock and Hubbard joining him. In 1969, he’d be keeping in step with Davis, his Super Nova
staking its claim as a fusion masterwork. But much like with Davis, JuJu
captures a moment of inimitable, early modernist clarity for Shorter, carving a new id within an established mode.