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Wayne Shorter: Alegria

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Wayne Shorter illustration

First, an admission: I have always been ambivalent about Wayne Shorter. This is heresy, I realize. Shorter, after all, is a composer of jazz standards, such as “Footprints” and “Sanctuary,” that will last as long as the art form is practiced somewhere on the planet. He is a saxophonist of undeniable skill and originality and seriousness, and he has been a guiding force in groundbreaking ensembles like Miles Davis’ “second great quintet” and Weather Report. He makes records that only Wayne Shorter could have made.

Yet from his earliest Blue Note recordings, he never fully worked for me. His tone on tenor saxophone had a slightly dry asceticism, and I could never fully buy in to his oddities, his jittery scattering of thematic fragments, his crowded harmonies, his intellectualized asymmetrical phrasing. I preferred the 1964 Miles Davis band with George Coleman on tenor to the post-1965 quintet featuring Shorter. True, as a musical thinker, Coleman was not in Shorter’s class. Yet the Davis band with Shorter never made a masterpiece like the one it made in 1964 with Coleman, My Funny Valentine.

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