If John Coltrane’s Both Directions At Once was one of the jazz events of 2018, then this is arguably the other. Whereas the aforementioned was a lost album, this one did not need finding: a new work from an old hand who nonetheless shows little sign of ageing despite having seen 84 summers.
Wayne Shorter is one of the seminal figures of post-war black music insofar as he has been associated with every school of thought, from swing and bop to avant-garde and fusion, yet nonetheless retains a mind of his own. His love of European classical music is something he has been vocal about, with Sibelius a particular source of inspiration. So this collaboration between his quartet, arguably one of the best small groups he has led–Danilo Perez (piano), John Patitucci (bass), Brian Blade (drums), and the 34-piece Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is very much the fulfillment of a long-held ambition rather than a radical stylistic departure.
All of the customary harmonic finesse – the wafer-like chords voiced with such precision as to be an air stream for Shorter’s horn as well as a tonal trajectory for theme and improvisation – is heard throughout, but everything is thrown into sharper relief by the strings, which on occasion are used to produce thunderous crescendos. As a soloist, Shorter is still more than capable to cut through the maelstrom, and his soprano has the same molten, liquid-into-solid character that has defined his many classic performances, particularly with Weather Report. In fact, there are times when the rhythmic thrust and stacked towers of sound, leaning and tantalizing, are an acoustic iteration of that legendary ensemble. On the downside, Shorter sometimes gets swallowed up in the gigantic orchestral folds. On the upside, the sweep of the arrangements is grand, and suits this opus on three discs, the last two of which are live sets from Lisbon and London. As a bonus for all art lovers there is a graphic novel co-designed by Shorter himself. True to form with Mr.Gone there are no half measures.
Wayne Shorter, Emanon (Blue Note)