Live at Montreux 1996
From the 1950s through the 1980s, saxophonist Wayne Shorter played with some of the greatest bands in jazz, including Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, the Miles Davis Quintet and Weather Report. Shorter also started his solo recording career during the 1950s, but didn’t primarily become a solo artist until Weather Report’s 1985 coda. Yet as his new Live at Montreux DVD shows, some of the saxophonist’s subsequent touring units (and there are three on display here, counting the bonus tracks) merited comparison with those supergroups.
Shorter opens the set on tenor with “On the Milky Way Express,” from his Grammy-winning 1996 album High Life. The band of keyboardist James Beard, guitarist David Gilmore, bassist Alphonso Johnson and drummer Rodney Holmes contributes to a dramatic intro buildup, and Shorter’s old Weather Report bandmate Johnson delivers a melodic solo. A showy 1991 bonus version of the same tune, with the lineup of keyboardist Herbie Hancock, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Omar Hakim, provides contrast near disc’s end.
Other tracks showcase the primary band’s interaction, and go far beyond their contemporary recorded versions. “At the Fair,” with Shorter on soprano, features a soaring solo by Gilmore and creative accents on the entire drum kit by Holmes. Both musicians also stand out on the frenetic “Over Shadow Hill Way,” from Shorter’s 1988 album Joy Ryder. Another gem is “Children of the Night,” with a muscular mid-tempo funk arrangement that bears little resemblance to the version Shorter played with Blakey. The final bonus cuts, “Pinocchio” and “Pee Wee/Theme,” feature Shorter reuniting with the other members of Davis’ great 1960s quintet (Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, drummer Tony Williams). Captured the year after Davis’ death, and featuring trumpeter Wallace Roney, the acoustic tracks provide fitting and fascinating closure.