The history of Brazil is quite boring. For tens of thousands of years, a primitive, nomadic culture lived in the area, and just like any other South American country, a European country colonized it (in this case, Portugal). Brazil declared independence, following the path of so many other countries, in the 19th century. From then on, Brazil took advantage of their independence and became one of the richest countries in South America. Today, Brazil was the first country to find an alternative fuel to gasoline, inventing the ethanol solution. In jazz history, there is a short footnote that remains very hidden. That little footnote pertains to the album Native Dancer by Wayne Shorter.
Wayne Shorter's Native Dancer is a stretch for the virtuosic sax player. Being part of the creation of jazz fusion with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew, Wayne Shorter has a lot to live up to in his solo career. Therefore, Wayne came up with a brilliant idea that many artists need to learn. He thought "Hey, how about I don't try to recreate what made me famous and try something new"" Shorter called in Milton Nascimento, a popular singer in Brazil, to join Shorter in his effort to create a blend of jazz, rock, and Brazilian music. Also pulling in musicians from previous efforts such as Herbie Hancock and Airto Moreira, Native Dancer is a compilation of great musicians all playing a new style of music never seen before. Many songs feature Nascimento and his beautiful voice singing a Brazilian song and Shorter accompanying him with tremendous sax licks. Herbie Hancock, as always, makes great piano lines to set a groove down with a solid rhythm section behind the three. One of the greatest things about the album is the obvious showcase of Wayne Shorter not having an ego. He lets Nascimento have his spotlight and only plays where he is needed. Many other jazz musicians of the time (McLaughlin, Jaco) would have overplayed the album and taken away from Nascimento's brilliant performance.
The album opener, Ponte de Areia, shows the voice of Milton Nascimento immediately. His voice, tracked multiple times, along with piano are the first thing heard. Nascimento sings in his upper range in his native language. The rest of the band enters with an almost James Brown feel in the bass and piano. Nascimento continues with his intro. At about 1:30, everything drops out and Wayne Shorter comes in with a soprano sax. He plays a simple melody, nothing too fast. A cymbal brush roll along with faint bass can be heard, and it sounds as though Shorter's sax is a sound from heaven, almost as inspiration to Nascimento, sending him the words through melodic telekinesis. The feel changes again, with faint keyboard comping entering and then eventually the entire band. The groove is short-lived, however, as Shorter takes a solo of just him and a few accented hits by the drums. Finally, Nascimento reenters and Shorter plays the same melody as him. Then the James Brown groove returns, much stronger and louder this time. Shorter plays some fills under Nascimento, doing what Kenny G should be able to. The song fades out on the riff.
The next track, Beauty and the Beast, starts with piano chords that sound nearly exactly like Bennie and the Jets by Elton John. It could very well be a tribute to him, seeing as the song came out in 1973. A groovy yet sparse bass line accents the piano. Once again, Wayne uses his soprano sax for this song. When he enters, Hancock plays sparser piano and less of a rhythmic line. Wayne builds a beautiful melody while the rhythm section grooves. The chorus could be considered when the piano returns to the Bennie and the Jets line, as Nascimento is not present in this song. The entire song is a Shorter feature, and he plays amazingly, knowing where to play fast and where to play beautifully. His sax lines are sultry, in all ranges of the soprano, and simply incredible. Herbie Hancock's piano is astounding here, his chord voices extremely well thought out and adds a new dimension of chordal value. The song ends on a fade out of the Bennie and the Jets riff.
Another standout is the uptempo From the Lonely Afternoon. The song opens with a fade in piano line from Herbie Hancock, and then the whole band enters with Nascimento singing a melody in a lower tenor range before shooting up to his higher falsetto. The rhythm section accents upbeats while Nascimento does nothing different and continues sitting, allowing the rhythm underneath to just be a small nuance. At about 1:30, Shorter comes in playing tenor. His solo is extremely Coltrane influenced, consisting of mostly blisteringly fast runs. What makes Shorter more enjoyable of a listen than Coltrane is he stops from the fast runs every once in a while, not to mention he maintains his tone quality while playing fast. The song is short, just over 3 minutes, so after Shorter's solo, Nascimento and Shorter make a small appearance together and the song ends on a held note.
Native Dancer is certainly an original effort, revitalizing an interest in Brazilian music in the jazz community. While it is not Shorter's best effort, Native Dancer took the jazz world by surprise and captivated them from start to finish. It makes an excellent relaxation album.
Ponte De Areia
Beauty and the Beast
From the Lonely Afternoon