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Wayne Shorter Quartet at the Earshot Jazz Festival

Coming off the success of their Footprints-Live CD, Wayne Shorter’s quartet opened Seattle’s massive Earshot Jazz Festival with a concert that demanded, and rewarded, the hard work of close listening. The 69-year-old saxophonist, a bit portly but looking fit, got a warm greeting from a thousand listeners. “Wayne…Wayne…Wayne…,” came the rhythmic chant of a woman in the back of the theater. The main floor of the Paramount was set with cocktail tables, each holding a candle, so that the auditorium seemed to throw back a diffuse reflection of the subdued lighting on stage.

In ninety minutes of music that swelled and ebbed in rhythmic intensity and bloomed in layers of tonal coloration, Shorter, pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade danced on the margins of collective improvisation. Solos rose from the swirl and churn of the music, only to subside and give way to extraordinary interaction, particularly among Perez, Patitucci and Blade. With no announcements and subliminal pauses, the music unfolded through six of Shorter’s compositions, with a seventh as an encore. The harmonic openness of the pieces helped established freedom for adventuring by what amounts to a cooperative group. “Sanctuary” led the recital with Shorter on tenor saxophone, as he was for most of the concert. He began with fragments of melody while the rhythm built up, not into a groove, but as atmosphere. As Shorter moved from pastiches of notes into long tones, he became less a soloist than a part of the fabric of sound and rhythm. He and Blade were a duo for a short time, Blade made a brief solo statement, Perez and Patitucci played a duet, and the focus moved back to Shorter in relaxed phrases supported by Perez with harmonies that might have come from a hymn. The four men gathered intensity, let it settle slowly, then Shorter played a blues phrase that set a new direction and a new tune.

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