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Jackie McLean

John H. Armwood Jazz History Lecture Nashville's Cheekwood Arts Center 1989

Monday, June 20, 2005

Quietly Commanding and Subversive by Stealth - New York Times

Quietly Commanding and Subversive by Stealth - New York Timesune 20, 2005
Quietly Commanding and Subversive by Stealth

At first it was good enough that Wayne Shorter started a new working band. Four years later, it's even better to see how confidently it has evolved. At Carnegie Hall on Friday night, in a double bill with Dave Holland's quintet at the JVC Jazz Festival, Mr. Shorter's quartet commandeered a pretty remarkable act of floating.

I have it on good authority that he played five distinct songs, but they flowed into each other, and more songs materialized during the process. During one new piece, "Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean," the band spent some time making a collective reference to one of his standards, "Footprints." It wasn't programmed, like listening to a record; it was more like watching a sped-up picture of weather patterns.

That's not to say it was close to formless. It was its own form, and so full of the sound of the individual players that it resisted overall characterization. John Patitucci, the bassist, plays with a strong tone, and chose his places carefully; he set up one clean, uncrowded ostinato after another, with just a couple of notes.

The drummer Brian Blade pierced the air here and there with abrupt fills, while indicating the pulse with fine detail. The pianist Danilo PĂ©rez ranged the most widely, playing what was basically improvised impressionist classical music for long stretches, very loosely attached to rhythm. And Mr. Shorter played his strange, beautiful, broken shapes.

One of the hardest things to do in jazz is to play commandingly while playing softly. (There is a tradition of this, including players like Lester Young, Count Basie, Hank Jones and Billy Higgins; it began to thin in the 1960's.) It takes a secure band, and the knowledge that moderation can be subversive. Mr. Shorter's set, including four pieces from his new live album "Beyond the Sound Barrier," occasionally went to extremes, rising to exclamation points or dipping into the strange sound of nothing. But mostly this was a consistently quieter, more rustling performance than the album suggests, suiting itself to the heavy-echo sonic qualities of Carnegie Hall, leaning toward mallets instead of drumsticks, and the soprano saxophone instead of the tenor.

A Shorter set carries its structure deep inside, in some unseeable place. Everyone seems to be soloing all the time, and there are no beginnings and endings. By contrast, Mr. Holland's music has an exoskeleton. His quintet, which followed Mr. Shorter's band, was a song-by-song proposition, with Mr. Holland going about it the old-fashioned way: making announcements, pointing out the featured soloists.

The band has a strong attachment to odd-meter rhythms, and generally makes them feel natural - though sometimes one has to resist an urge to count beats per measure, which is a pleasure-killer. And it seems sometimes that communication among band members happens almost despite the formal qualities of the rhythm.

Generally it doesn't matter much because the band is so well-integrated and practiced. But for whatever reason, Friday's show wasn't close to the band at its best, showing neither the glassy precision nor the cathartic ensemble action of which it is capable.

Two pieces stood out, happily, and both were new. One was "Easy Did It," with a long and impressively coherent soprano-saxophone solo by Chris Potter; the other was "Amator Silenti," written by the band's vibraphonist Steve Nelson, which busted open the stereotype of a Dave Holland Quintet piece. It had a sweet melody, and it was a ballad, with arranged but not contrived pauses and dropouts. Parts of it, in slow and fast tempos, were completely free.

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