For the last 20 years, Wayne Shorter has devoted a considerable amount of his time to reinterpreting his catalog of the previous 50 years or so. In 2015, he was presented with another sort of reimagination when he joined the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for a pair of concerts featuring members’ arrangements of both Shorter “hits” and deep cuts. NPR’s Jazz Night in America previously showcased some of the music, but this album offers the repertoire in full.
Shorter has long been hailed as the greatest living composer in small-combo jazz, and when the JALC Orchestra kicks into full swing on the opening track “Yes or No,” that gift is amplified. The playful yet sharp arrangement by Lincoln Center tenor man Victor Goines casts the orchestra’s various horn sections as differing aspects of the harmony: the shine of the trumpets in the high notes rings out over the sweep of the midrange saxes while the trombones articulate skeletal triads below. Each part captures some detail; the scope and incessant motion of Shorter’s movable harmonic feast can be more fully digested and appreciated.
The Music of Wayne Shorter covers a large swath of the saxophonist’s career over two discs and 10 tracks. Material runs from the careening, hard swing of Art Blakey, made even more sharp and brash in this setting, to late-1980s fusion like “The Three Marias” from Atlantis, which sounds in this setting like a blueprint for Shorter’s 2018 sci-fi epic Emanon (curiously, there are no entries from Shorter’s tenure with Miles Davis or Weather Report). The album ends, poetically, at the very beginning of Shorter’s career: “Mama G,” from Introducing Wayne Shorter. The straight-ahead, bouncy, and airy tune becomes a simple, joyful, and collective statement of appreciation and awe for one of our greatest artists.