Wayne Shorter, Without A Net (Blue Note)
About seven minutes into Shorter’s first soprano saxophone solo on the monumental “Pegasus,” someone in the band says, “Oh, my God!” The interjection stands as reaction not only to that track by Shorter’s quartet and the Imani Winds but also to his quartet throughout the album. “Pegasus,” commissioned by the Imani Winds, is the piece de resistance of this collection of performances recorded in concert on a 2011 tour. Weaving together the quartet improvising and the wind ensemble reading his demanding score, Shorter achieves intense energy and a successful synthesis of two genres that is rare enough to be noteworthy. It is the centerpiece of the album, but he and the rhythm section are stunning in the eight tracks without the Imani.
The abiding impression is that the Shorter quartet has found a degree of consistent unity few working bands achieve even occasionally. In their decade or so together, Shorter, pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade have reached the blessed state reflected in the title of one of the CD’s tunes, “S.S. Golden Mean.” However, they depart from the classic description of the golden mean as a happy medium, a state of balance. They allow extremes, surprises, explosions of the unexpected. The four seem wide open to anything, eager to capitalize on the next chance one of them takes. The ability to land on their feet is better insurance than a net. “Zero Gravity to the 10th Power” and “(The Notes) Unidentified Flying Objects” find Shorter on tenor sax reacting to and developing ideas generated by the rhythm section. In “Orbits,” “Plaza Real,” the old movie song “Flying Down to Rio,” indeed throughout, the collective improvisation frequently creates edge-of-the-seat anticipation that Shorter, Perez, Patitucci and Blade satisfy even after repeated hearings.
On the eve of his 80th birthday, August 25, Shorter has made his mark many times over. This album is not about making a new one, except in the sense that it finds him and his remarkable quartet at a level of togetherness verging on ESP.