Wayne Shorter – The Ultimate Musical Facilitator
A personal remembrance in five tracks, by Chris Wright
Amid what right now seems to be a never ending wave of great musical heroes leaving us, I think it would be a fair observation that the passing of legendary jazz saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter was one of the most widely felt losses across the music world.
That’s primarily because Shorter’s stellar career traversed so many genres and informed so much of the music that makes up the soundtrack of the lives of so many of us.
Yes, he had an amazingly influential solo career, with great albums like 1974’s Native Dancer, but for me, and I suspect many others, it was his role in playing alongside other artists where he will be most fondly remembered.
So I’d like to pay tribute to Wayne by remembering five tracks that all represent personal musical moments of epiphany and which serve to demonstrate that here was, perhaps, the ultimate musical facilitator, unlocking magic that would otherwise have never caressed our ears.
Palladium – Weather Report – Heavy Weather 1977
There’s just no doubt in my mind that Heavy Weather was the record that widened my musical horizons like no other. A more mainstream album than the seven Weather Report LPs that preceded it, this was not only my entry point to the fabulous band Wayne formed with Joe Zawinul, but also the record that opened the window for me to jazz in general.
It’s a simply joyous LP of amazing musical dexterity and I think that’s what grabbed me about it when I borrowed it from Ipswich Library, initially due to the intriguing cover more than anything else. Little did I know that, from the very first listen, it was going to be a life-changing experience.
Wayne’s profound contribution throughout Heavy Weather makes it very difficult to single out a track. I could easily make a case for A Remark You Made, and yet it is the way he drives the whole band on the vibrant Palladium that is arguably his greatest moment on an album that redefined the jazz landscape from that moment.
Iris – E.S.P – Miles Davis 1965
E.S.P has long been one of my very favourite Miles albums. I find it has Kind Of Blue-level accessibility and also creates its own very special mood.This was the first Miles Davis Quartet album that Wayne played on and, by common consent, his arrival really gelled the group, which also included Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter. Perhaps this is best exemplified by Wayne’s sublime tenor sax playing on Iris, his own composition. It’s a piece of absolutely remarkable fluidity and wonderful interplay with Miles. A high watermark in hard bop.
Aja – Aja – Steely Dan 1977
Donald Fagan and Walter Becker were, of course, the ultimate musical alchemists of the 70’s, assembling only the very finest musicians for their increasingly complex and sophisticated albums.
For many the peak was 1977’s Aja and I think there’s a strong argument that Aja’s most inspired moment is the incredible Wayne Shorter solo that elevates this track into the stratosphere.
He doesn’t even appear until about 4:45, but as soon as he does, Aja just soars. Difficult to imagine any other sax player, or indeed another musician of any stripe, being able to so positively impose himself so quickly. Playing of the very highest calibre.
Paprika Plains – Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter – Joni Mitchell 1977
Clocking in at almost sixteen and a half minutes and taking up the whole of Side Two of Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, Joni Mitchell’s 1977 double album in the middle of what is often, though perhaps not entirely accurately, referred to as her jazz era, Paprika Plains is certainly the most ambitious song she ever recorded in terms of both length and indeed scale. The song is initially informed by her piano playing and a grandiose orchestral accompaniment.
Styled to reflect a dream-like state, the song kind of drifts, but in an extremely engaging way. On first listen, you might well think just how is this going to end?
The answer arrives at almost exactly 13 minutes in with a joint Weather Report intervention by bassist Jaco Pastorius and Wayne that soon gives way to his wonderful soprano sax solo that essentially arrives to take us home in a calm yet still triumphant manner. Exquisite.
A Bird That Whistles – Joni Mitchell – Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm 1988
The closing track of Joni’s woefully underrated 1988 offering Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm lasts just 2 minutes and 36 seconds. However I find Wayne’s impact here to be absolutely mind-blowing.
Less is often more, and the economy of his sax playing on A Bird That Whistles is just so beautiful, suggesting birdsong and flight and offering such a delicate touch.
In fact, when I learned of Wayne’s passing this week, this less well-renowned track was the one that immediately sprung to mind.
Once again, I don’t think there’s another musician who could have provided such a delicate sonic painting here. Another wonderful example of Wayne’s unique ability to elevate the work of others. The master collaborator.
Chris Wright | Now Spinning Magazine