Wayne Shorter turned 80 years old on August 25 – recently enough for the Monterey Jazz Festival to dedicate this Sunday evening performance on the Jimmy Lyons Main Stage to the saxophonist’s birthday celebration. Shorter is the Commission Artist of this year’s festival: Earlier in the weekend, trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Joe Lovano led a quintet through a new Shorter composition entitled “Sound Prints”.
KUSP’s Jeff Dayton-Johnson spoke with Wayne after his quartet’s set (look elsewhere on this website for the interview) and the saxophonist said he didn’t believe in beginnings or endings. There is a sense in which the group’s performance embodied that sentiment: it felt like a one-hour window on a current of creative expression that had been going on before the concert began and continues even as I write. There were breaks where the audience rushed to applaud, but the music functioned as a kind of totality, a continuous whole. Musical themes drifted in and out; well-known songs from Shorter’s six decades in jazz lurked below the surface of pianist Danilo Pérez‘s arpeggiated left-hand lines, only to burst forth – or to be submerged again. “Plaza Real,” a song from the Weather Report songbook, recently reimagined by the Shorter quartet on Without A Net (2013) was one such example; “Orbits,” from Miles Davis‘s Miles Smiles (1966) was another.
Shorter – one of the greatest tenor saxophonists in history – played soprano sax throughout. The higher register was appropriate to the musical density of this quartet, a way to find a place to be heard. The musical approach was free in the truest jazz sense, continuously reinvented by the group, punctuated by individual improvisational excellence. Festival-goers could trace a line from the late-period Coltrane music celebrated by Joe Lovano and the Berklee Global Jazz Ambassadors Friday night on the Garden Stage, through pianist Craig Taborn‘s rhythmically adventurous Saturday night set on the Night Club stage to Shorter’s quartet performance, a line defined by freedom, rigor and collective enterprise.
In this regard, the longevity of this quartet is paramount. When we talk about classic jazz ensembles – Miles Davis’s first or second great quintets, Louis Armstrong‘s Hot Fives, Coltrane’s group with McCoy Tyner – these are groups that might have endured two or three years. This quartet has clocked 13 years and counting and the empathy and telepathy among the players is palpable. A superb climax to this festival’s program.