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Wayne Shorter: Face of the Deep

Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
(L to R): Danilo Perez, Wayne Shorter, John Patitucci, Brian Blade
Wayne Shorter

“When I do interviews,” Wayne Shorter stated at a recent black-tie gala held in his honor, “people ask me about music, music, music, music, music. And I say no, no, no, no. Music is second; the human being is first.” He quickly posed two questions divulging the depths he was willing to plumb in even the most cursory of remarks: “What is music for? What is anything for?”

Wayne Shorter is currently leading one of the most profoundly creative units on today’s music scene, a quartet that has attained a high level of musical intensity in an impressively short period of time. Footprints Live! (Verve) is the new acoustic Shorter album that’s been waiting to happen since 1967, and one that will be thoroughly fêted.

But trying to get Shorter to talk about his new album, or any of his music, can be a discontinuous, disconcerting exercise-then suddenly, disarmingly logical. In the stream of Shorter’s conversation, references to forgotten film stars (Ruth Roman, Steve Cochran) and a self-penned comic book-“I did Other Worlds in 1949 in pen, like life does, so you can’t go back and correct something”-bubble alongside Buddhist admonitions: “I’m celebrating the eternity of human life; knowing that sense of eternity can put a damper on why people steal, or mess with the little girl they found today, or do that whole Taliban thing.”

Specific examples can lead to general statement; a thought halted only minutes before is often retrieved and completed. Hang with the seemingly frayed thread and a tightly woven personal philosophy emerges.

“When I was 15 I knew that sci-fi and bebop and the kind of music behind Wolfman and Frankenstein would have a long, long road to go to be accepted. I knew that masses of people just accept what’s thrown at them, and have to wade through a whole lot of smoke screens [and] mass production stuff. Mass production allows people to become millionaires and have hit records, and it seems like it goes on and on and on. But when people value real creative acts that reinforce connections between us…hmm, how many people on this planet?”

Four billion.

“You’re going to have four billion millionaires, and no imbalance! Just because something goes on for billions of years don’t make it valuable…but if you’re hip to eternity, the time will come for everything.”

The time-it would seem-has come for Shorter. At 68, his legend-as a veteran player and composer, as alumnus of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ famed ’60s quintet, as co-founder of the pioneering fusion unit Weather Report, as one of the jazz world’s premier links between its acoustic and electric traditions-is universally celebrated.

In the same week recently he accepted the New School University’s Beacons in Jazz Award in New York City and the Thelonious Monk Institute’s Founders Award in Washington, D.C.-the latter presented by a former sax player on leave from oversea duties: General Richard B. Meyers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Shorter greets the sudden surge of honors with a healthy dose of humor: “‘Let’s get him before he croaks!’ [laughs] No, no…it is a nice thing for people to be conscious of that. But it shouldn’t be just for me. I can think of a lot of other people. It is, like they say, ‘Better late than never.'”

It’s refreshing to hear Shorter’s lighthearted approach to issues normally deemed weighty and significant. He loves to laugh and is fun to be around. In person, Shorter-compact, gray at the temples, displaying a slight paunch-talks eagerly, with a mischievous chuckle at the end of many free-flowing sentences. Often, his hands punctuate his words, struggling to keep up with the animated drive of his thoughts.

Shorter’s spirit is all the more impressive in light of recent events. He has bounced back from tragedy-his first wife and niece perished in the TWA Flight 800 disaster of 1996-remarried and relocated from Los Angeles to Miami. He speaks of his new home in Florida with a delight in the details (“We’re still in boxes, but getting there!”) and a renewed vigor that defies the years. There’s a palpable-perhaps even overdue-sense of musical satisfaction. “It’s been stewing in my past,” he says of his current situation.

Shorter claims a particular inevitability to the consistently inventive music he is now delivering and that his pedigree always promised. “Everyone makes certain causes and effects, and a lot of them are delayed-it’s what we call karmic benefit, you dig? The effect could come out immediately or a week later or 10 years from now.”

Call it karma, fortune or just good ears-the most evident reason for Shorter’s contentment is the talent-rich band he currently helms. Asked to describe the measure of this quartet-Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez; Brooklyn-born bassist John Patitucci and Louisiana drummer Brian Blade-Shorter leaps over 30 years of experience to find its near-telepathic equal.

“We had the beginnings of this kind of feeling with the Miles Davis band in the ’60s-Tony [Williams], Herbie [Hancock] and Ron [Carter]. In fact, for me, Miles and that band was the first and the free-est band. He didn’t tell anybody what to do, we didn’t have any rehearsals, you know? You had to take care of business yourself. It’s the same with these guys now.”

From the outset, the group distinguished itself from past Shorter lineups with a relatively youthful spark-Patitucci is 42, Perez 35 and Blade 31-and experimental willingness. As a point of comparison, the saxophonist again references his former employer.

“Miles did take six years off [in the mid- to late ’70s] and when he got back, he said he’d rather play with new guys who were ready to take chances rather than some older musicians. He didn’t mean those who had played with him, but more mature musicians who might say, ‘I can’t play that,’ or ‘I don’t do windows’ [laughs]-that type of attitude.”

“It’s almost scary how much freedom we get,” Blade reports. “At the start, I made the mistake of getting too far into Wayne’s head-trying to figure out what he wanted, instead of doing my thing.” Blade’s ability to take chances rather than orders-unusual for one used to playing support for rock acts (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell) and jazz acts (Joshua Redman, Kenny Garrett)-is the common stripe among the band Shorter first assembled for a few scattered dates in 2000.

In his current record-company bio, Shorter reports that Blade’s stint with Chick Corea first brought the young drummer to his attention. Later, when he “heard Brian playing with Joni [Mitchell], doing stuff like playing the drums with his hands, that’s when I knew that this was a guy whose veranda door was wide open.”

An avid TV watcher, Shorter first spied Perez playing on a broadcast of Dizzy Gillespie’s band, later met him at a piano competition and grew impressed with his economic, Latin-drenched style. “I heard Danilo playing and it was adventurous and fresh,” he says. “He wasn’t playing to show off his technique. He was interested in telling stories.” Further urging from drummer Terri Lyne Carrington crystallized Shorter’s interest.

Patitucci was another player known to Shorter through Corea. “It was right after [Shorter’s 1985 album] Atlantis came out,” recalls the bassist. “I was playing on the Chick-Wayne-Al tour in Chick’s band; Wayne had his electric quartet and [guitarist] Al Di Meola played solo. We got to know each other, and he used me on a few tunes on his next album, Phantom Navigator. We’ve done stuff together ever since then.”

Happy with his new recruits, Shorter made full-scale touring plans for the summer of 2001; there was little warning how far or how fast the union would progress. “The band definitely clicked from the beginning,” Patitucci maintains. “But then, it developed into a family.”

In 2001, the new Wayne Shorter Quintet had progressed from a few, leisurely-paced Stateside appearances to a pressure-cooker, six-week swing through Canada, Israel and most of Western Europe. It was during the steamy month of July that Shorter noticed something new starting to appear-and so did his sidemen. “Oh yeah, they felt it, and I did too. Every now and then the guys would come and say, ‘Hey, what’s happening? Something’s going on.’ We went for music devoid of the kind of sophistication where there’s so much emphasis on technique that everything becomes predictable. We were looking to grab a story and tell it.”

“To have that many dates in a row gave the music a chance to develop,” recalls Patitucci. “We were free to play new things, to try things we wouldn’t have done otherwise. Wayne kept pulling compositions out of his bag- ‘Atlantis’ turned into this great work-in-progress, evolving night after night.”

A fluid, confident charge began to shape their performances. Recognizable compositions-tunes from Shorter’s Blue Note albums (“Footprints,” “Valse Triste”), Miles’ output (“Masquelero,” “Sanctuary”) and more recent recordings (his tribute to confined Burmese writer “Aung San Suu Kyi”)-were being artfully stretched and deconstructed, evolving from static melodic forms into exciting, elastic workouts. Loose, lyrical ideas seemed to impulsively flow among the four, implying a decades-long camaraderie from an only recently gelled group.

“We were playing in France and I heard this ‘Yeow!’ behind me,” Shorter remembers. “I turned around slowly and looked at John and he said, ‘Yes, that’s Brian.'” Gleeful cries from the musicians and bursts of applause from the audience became part of the show as separate improvisational leaps, like a well-traveled trapeze act, unexpectedly hooked together.

“I’d say to Wayne, ‘Man, without you, I’m not playing! You bring it out of me,'” enthuses Perez. “He’d just say in that Miles way, ‘Oh – shut up,'” he laughs.

Patitucci tells a story of the group resurrecting “Go,” an overlooked gem from Shorter’s 1967 album Schizophrenia. “Brian had been wanting to play that-it’s such a great tune and how many times do you hear anyone play that? So at one soundcheck Brian played a smidgen of it and we began looking all over Europe to find a copy of it on CD, or even the old Blue Note record. We were frustrated-couldn’t find it anywhere. I ran into an old friend-[pianist] John Beasley, who played with Miles-and he had a copy. So I took it to my room and Danilo helped write this simple chart based on the main melody-not the orchestrated intro-and we started playing it. It was like everything we tried; it became part of this great chemistry and enjoyment-a possibility.”

“We didn’t try to actually figure it out,” laughs Shorter. “My wife would say, ‘Stop! Stop thinking about it.'” Though no one moment marked the band’s true birth point, he speaks of its creative arrival like a proud parent. “It was like a child being born, and you don’t really want to predict the follow through, the child’s path.”

Every quartet performance offered a fascinating tableau of creative democracy in progress: nothing overstated or obvious. Against such an abstract backdrop, the slightest gesture-a brief tremolo on the soprano, a sudden cymbal crash-weighed heavy with effect and meaning. The musicians’ concentration was almost tangible, pulling the audience deeper and deeper into its intense, unfolding logic.

One particular concert provided proof of the mesmerizing reach of Shorter’s road show.

“That was in Paris [in Parc Floral]-I saw people out there with their children, on their day off, just walking through the park,” the saxophonist says. “There were not a lot of jazz fans, and it was not business as usual: ‘Isn’t that a nice thing going on up there,’ and then keep moving. For the most part, there was a general stoppage of motion.”

Shorter still marvels at the response from a markedly nonjazz audience. “We got something like four encores!” Having run out of material, the band looked at each other and ended the afternoon with a loose-limbed version of “All Blues” that left the crowd spent and screaming. “We did that one for Miles-this would have been his 75th year,” was the saxophonist’s elated postconcert explanation.

Though that momentous concert was sadly untaped, Rob Griffin, the group’s diligent engineer, had recorded a significant number of preceding shows. Before the summer ended, selections from spirited performances in Vitoria, Spain; Marseilles, France; and Perugia, Italy, were listened to, mulled over, sequenced and resequenced by Shorter, Griffin and Verve Music producer Richard Seidel. Eventually, Footprints Live! was produced, an eight-track, single-disc distillation of the group’s collective magic.

Shorter reports that, as if by itself, the album chose to follow the progression of a typical Shorter date, from an atmospheric rendering of “Sanctuary” to a rousing version of “JuJu” that had become the group’s set-closer. “When I was putting the album together, I was saying, ‘Uh oh, This is a trip,'” he laughs. “I didn’t plan it, but the whole album opens up with a decrescendo, and as you go through it, it opens up like the bell of a horn, by the time you get to track seven or eight, it’s wide open, with a wider dynamic range going on, ups and downs. It’s like going from a pianissimo to a triple forte! I didn’t think about that [but] it is a way of beginning with respect, slowly. And if you want to hear some bash, you’ve got to work your way up to the end.

Footprints Live! is Shorter’s first new album as leader in seven years (not including 1997’s duet effort with Herbie Hancock, 1+1). Most significantly, it’s his first acoustic effort as a leader since 1967; a return to a format that Shorter fans who fell in love via albums like JuJu, Adam’s Apple or Miles’ Sorcerer will embrace immediately. That Footprints is largely a tenor sax album-Shorter plays soprano on only three cuts-furthers the sense of return. But it will not disappoint Weather Report devotees or recent converts more attuned to his fusion or more orchestrated material.

The track listing offers one more reason for its familiar appeal. All but two of the tunes (“Aung San Suu Kyi” and “Atlantis”) hail from the ’60s chapter of the Shorter repertoire. A particularly poignant and pliant approach colors the quartet’s take on Jean Sibelius’ “Valse Triste,” which rolls into a streamlined take of “Go.” Shorter explains that any impromptu feel to the transitions is precisely because the set-list was often created mid-performance.

“We’d talk so fast-‘What do you want to do?’ while the audience is still clapping-there’s usually no lull; it’s like a family at a table: ‘Can you pass the salt, please?’ or ‘You want this drumstick?’ Sometimes the audience picks that up, and they start laughing.”

Despite the appearance of a greatest hits package, Shorter is adamant that is exactly what Footprints Live! is not. “If someone believes in the term retrospective, and that’s as far as they go, then that’s feigning real experience. It’s like never tasting ice cream, but you’ll critique pictures of it!”

Shorter sees the inherent, unrealized possibilities in his compositions, established as they may be, in the same light as well-known classical repertoire. “When I listen to Mozart, I see stuff in there that’s way in the future, some people say ‘timeless.’ Beethoven too.” Asked if a listener would be advised to consider this album anew, to disassociate the material from 30-year-old recordings, Shorter grows curt. “It’s waaaaaaay now. Period. That’s my statement.”

Footprints Live! certainly sets apart Shorter’s better known compositions from previous incarnations, as it offers moments of brilliance. Shorter’s pensive, breathy tones on “Sanctuary”; his tenor and soprano are fleet, melodic delights on “Footprints,” spiced by a whimsical “Rock-a-Bye Baby” quote. Other focus points: Blade’s subtle, gear-shifting, snare- and cymbal-work on “Valse Triste”; his uncontainable exuberance on “Aung San Suu Kyi.” Patitucci’s rhythmic, arco intro to “JuJu”; his signature, strings-on-fret rattle on “Masquelero.” Perez’s roll-and-tumble drive drawing the same tune to a rousing climax; his rich, lyrically evocative underpinning to Shorter’s tenor on “Go.” It all makes for a captivating snapshot of last summer’s best little workshop on the road.

Whatever the response to Footprints Live!, Shorter has many irons in the proverbial fire, though the plans are less than precise: an album amplifying the quartet formula with brass, woodwinds and strings is scheduled for 2003; a small-group recording that somehow includes pianists Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau is also targeted for next year. And the quartet itself promises change, as Patitucci reports.

“Wayne’s bringing in new material all the time. We’ve started doing ‘Over Shadow Hill Way’ from the Joy Ryder album, and he composed ‘Occam’s Razor’-this little intro to ‘Sanctuary’-that opens the show. This band has really become his main outlet for old and new material.”

With another summer of touring pending, the quartet seems to be on the front burner. “I’m leaving my other shit alone,” states Perez.

“I’m moving things around-this is my priority now,” echoes Patitucci.

Says Shorter: “John will call and say, ‘I’m just checking on the family.’ Though everybody has their own band and everybody’s doing what they want to do but we’ve become a family.”

The Wayne Shorter Quartet plays to a packed house at the impressive, modern New Jersey Performing Arts Center in downtown Newark, N.J. He has been honored by his home state in recent years, but this March evening marks a true homecoming: it’s his first performance in Newark since a 1959 date with Art Blakey. In fact, it’s his first gig ever as a leader in the town that gave him his start.

Yet in performance, Shorter does not seem the man in charge. Rather than standing stage center with rhythm section behind, the master saxophonist aligns his band evenly-piano left, drums right, bass center and Shorter himself squeezed into the curve of the piano. At times, he appears the odd man at the party, as an ever-shifting musical conversation swirls about him. Perez hammers at a dense series of chords while Shorter braces himself on the piano’s edge. A sharp, hi-hat pattern pulls the saxophonist’s attention; he shuffles to his left, focusing on Blade. A remark from Patitucci draws a tentative Shorter smile.

He reaches for his tenor, holding it as if for the first time. As the performance begins to wind down, Shorter finds a point of entrance. Raising horn to lips, he smoothly blows a swath of stark, bristling emotion over the ultimate 20 seconds of the tune that leads to smiles and delighted applause.

Such is Shorter at work-pacing personal expression and group statement, balancing compositional form and in-the-moment inventiveness-always preparing for the right time to enter. It’s an unhurried, experimental approach that has informed his career as well. His current group could well be the combination he’s been waiting on for years. One thing is certain: like other constantly evolving conclaves that came and soon went-Art Blakey and Horace Silver’s Jazz Messengers of ’53 to ’56; Coltrane’s transcendent quartet of ’62 to ’65-Shorter’s quartet is a must-hear, how-long-can-it-last? phenomenon.

It’s that deep.

Making Footprints

Wayne Shorter’s new album Footprints Live! is endowed with rich sonic detail and startling clarity even the most vinyl-focused audiophiles should embrace. It’s a sound that’s worth investigating.

“My idea was to bring the people closer, to maximize the power, the in-your-faceness of the music,” says Rob Griffin, the engineer who captured the sound of the Wayne Shorter Quartet. “I wanted Footprints Live! to feel more like you were onstage as part of the band, than be a broad, ambient recording like you’re sitting in the back of a concert hall.”

Griffin is a former new-age guitarist who traded stage for soundboard after a debilitating wrist injury. Having since engineered for Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock and Roy Hargrove, Griffin is fast becoming a jazz soundman of choice.

Griffin, who was with Shorter throughout last summer’s tour, gave up the what, how and why of Footprints, revealing a tale of portable digital technology, nightly improvisational magic and practical Buddhist chanting.

It was very late, just before we went on the road last summer, when Wayne began talking about recording the tour. First we did the Avery Fischer gig at Lincoln Center, then Saratoga Springs, and you could sense the magical possibilities, so the decision came down to go for this thing. I bought new gear at that point, had it Fed Ex-ed in without fully knowing how to use the technology, and we were recording the next day in Montreal.

There were several ways we could’ve done it: a big professional recording truck, for example, and recorded a show or two. But we preferred to have more material to choose from, and try to put out things that were not necessarily sparkling good in a recording sense; we were just looking for the best possible material.

I chose a technological package that would work on the road, able to handle flying every day and that was as close to state-of-the-art as possible. We carried a splitter with us, to take an audio feed straight from the stage and most of all our own microphones. I used two Royer ribbon microphones on Wayne, and a stereo Royer SF-12 on the piano, plus an AMT piano mike. On bass I used a Neumann KM 184-though not on the entire record-and also an AMT. For the drums, I did use a number of Shure microphones, but only a few-I didn’t want to record it like a rock ‘n’ roll set, where you have a microphone an inch off each drum. I wanted to feel the environment: so just a couple of overheads, a bass-drum mike and one between snare and hi-hat.

There were a lot of on-the-road issues I had to contend with-one of the biggest was audio separation. We wanted to create the most natural environment for the musicians, and felt that it was important for the group to play as close as possible to each other on stage. So I put the piano lid on the high stick all the time, so everyone could hear the piano. But this provided considerably less isolation of the piano mikes: when you raise up the piano mike during an aggressive part of a tune, you might hear 70% drums! And without having the time to prepare-many times there was no sound check-it could be a problem.

Another real issue was trying to make it not feel like the music was recorded in different environments, although indeed it was. On the album, there are three: Perugia, where the venue held about 8,000 people outdoors. Vitoria, which was about 3,000 in a sports stadium with a metal roof. And Marseilles, which was outside in a park and unbearably humid. At the end of that show, Danilo [Perez] was showing me that when he pressed down on the piano, water would come out between the keys!

I have recorded other sax players-Michael Brecker, for instance-but capturing Wayne’s sound is so different. Mike’s sound is so smooth; he has a lot of different textures he can use, of course, but you know exactly the tone you’re going to get. With Wayne, you don’t have a clue what it’s going to be. From one tune to the next, sometimes in the same one-he’ll change his phrasing and tone. His sound is very unique, and very difficult to capture.

Unfortunately, we didn’t catch every show and there was one, in Paris, I really wish we had. It was an afternoon show, no sound check, and we were coming from Perugia. Plus the gear was trapped on the runway with a broken truck, so it took a really long time to set up. I told the guys, “Look, don’t kill me. Please don’t play your greatest today.” And they did-with four encores! Those dogs! In retrospect, I probably could have pulled it off.

The recording machine was a Tascam MX-2424 hard-disk recorder. After each concert, in a very lengthy process back at the hotel-almost 4 hours-I would store that evening’s show to a DVD-RAM. That part was miserable; I didn’t get much sleep.

At the end of the tour, I was carrying all these DVDs on the plane as gingerly as possible. When I got home to Columbus [Ohio] and tried to upload the recordings, it said “No files.” So I went through all of them, and the bulk of information wasn’t there and I’m thinking, “Oh my God, it’s all lost?” It was scary. You know what I did? I chanted my butt off and loaded one in, and it took. It’s true-I don’t know why and I don’t care why, but I got all of them uploaded. I then made rough mixes of all those concerts, burned CDs and then Wayne reviewed them.

It was easy to make the transitions work between the tunes because they often let those pieces flow together in various ways-through these open, improvisational doorways. “Aung San Suu Kyi,” recorded in Marseilles, shows this off very nicely when it kicks right into “JuJu” from Vitoria. I think the feel is really great.

The band loves the album; Wayne doesn’t usually emote that much so it’s not like he was ecstatic about the recordings. But I’ve come to know Wayne really well, so I could tell where he was coming from. He was happy. Danilo went out of his mind, in typical Danilo fashion. He told me he felt it was the best playing he’s ever had come out on a record.

Danilo’s extremely expressive and you can especially hear him on the record, but I can tell it’s all of those guys making comments and sounds. You hear Brian saying stuff, Wayne saying “Go!”-that was the first time I had heard them do that tune. On “JuJu” you hear Wayne whistling and beating on his watch, the piano or something. I really couldn’t deny those sounds-they really do add to the live picture, and help translate the joy the musicians have with the music.

Updated Weather Report

Awards, accolades, an exciting new album: if that wasn’t enough, Legacy has reissued a trio of era-defining Weather Report albums, further spotlighting Shorter’s legend. Mysterious Traveller, Tale Spinnin’ and Black Market, originally released by Columbia between 1973 and 1976, mark a frenetic period. “We were just recording and playing and touring and recording and playing and actually changing a lot of rhythm sections.”

The progression of personnel-from Miroslav Vitous to Alphonso Johnson to Jaco Pastorius on bass; Ishmael Wilburn to Ndugu to Narada Michael Walden and Chester Thompson on drums-proves Shorter correct. But the rotating effect also validates the group’s reputation for drawing the best younger improvisers of that era. Having already established itself at the vanguard of fusion’s first wave with a few albums guided by rock and Latin rhythms, the saxophonist also recalls Weather Report was thinking in album-long strides. “We were doing things that had nothing to do with a tune here and a tune there. One thing we didn’t want to do was consciously repeat something; we wanted the variety of things to be presented on these albums.”

The key to each, Shorter avers, can be found on the cover.

“Mysterious Traveller meant that comet Kohoutek [the overhyped celestial event of 1973/74], which was a mysterious visitor-so we had that cover of a comet over Madagascar. It was a mystery about where was it born, and that means our life too, here we are: all mysterious travelers. The title also came from a radio show that came on every Friday when I was growing up: this guy got on a train and told you a story. In fact, all the titles tell you that they all had to do with storytelling. Tale Spinnin’-that’s obvious. Black Market, there’s a lot of musical connotations in that name; not music that’s sold illegally, but music that’s out of sight of the music business machine, anything that’s ignored and thought of as not sellable or marketable. There’s a black market of the mind, where if you can’t get it in your stores, you have to make it up in your head.”

Shorter is not shy in explaining his lingering dissatisfaction with a record label that boasted no separate jazz department at the time, and seemed unsupportive in an era largely given to the bombast of million-selling rock acts. “Art Blakey used to say,” recalls the former Messenger, “‘If they can sell Wrigley’s chewing gum, they can sell jazz or anything creative.’

“What we did in general-with the music then and those albums-was just profound. We were taking a chance at that time without any support from Columbia Records really, knowing that it would take 15 or 20 years to gather a wide audience.”

A quarter century since the albums first appeared, Shorter pinpoints a few of his own Weather Report compositions. “Scarlet Woman,” a standout, minimalist track off Mysterious Traveler, causes Shorter pause, as he remembers that despite his sole credit, “the three of us got together [Shorter, keyboardist Joe Zawinul and bassist Alphonso Johnson] and collaborated on that, that’s why it came out with three different dimensions.

“‘Lusitanos’ [off Tale Spinnin’] was a first name given to the Portuguese, meaning people of light. My first wife, who passed, was Portuguese, and I used to ask her, ‘Where did [the word] Portugal come from when they broke free from the Romans?’ I was actually trying to think about a sound which celebrates the Portuguese fado, and how the girls sing with the black shawls on their heads and all that stuff. ‘Freezing Fire’ [also off Tale Spinnin’], that’s more title and motion than anything else-with the contradiction: how can fire freeze?”

“Elegant People,” a multisegmented, groove-driven tune propelled by Shorter’s tenor on Black Market, draws a general comment on the group’s celebration of pan-Latin influences, and Shorter’s own admiration for the musicians of that region caught in the political turbulence of the ’60s and ’70s. “That tune was a way of saying, ‘Isn’t it nice to have all this Latin music? And as it moves from one place to another, nobody’s given up their roots.’ Tito Puente had that modern feel of playing two things that became seamless; Dizzy Gillespie too. I don’t care where it comes from-Brazil, Cuba, from coast to coast, in the favelas and all that. For me it’s ‘Who’s contributing to the future? What’s next after the bossa nova, or the samba? Who’s taking the chances?’ I guess that was what they were trying to quell and squash back in the ’60s, when those dictatorships were at their worst, throwing journalists in jail and a lot of musicians too.”

Black Market is also notable as the album that introduced bass prodigy Pastorius to the world, and assembled the lineup that changed Weather Report forever. Shorter recalls his first run-in with the less-than-humble bassist in his native Miami.

“Yeah, we had heard about him. We had just finished playing some concert in Florida and here he comes walking up behind us, and says something like, ‘I’m Jaco Pastorius-I’m the baddest bass player in the world,’ shifting from one foot to the other, with those sneakers on. We said, ‘Oh, you’re the guy….’

Originally Published