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High Life

Wayne Shorter

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Album Review

Wayne Shorter's debut for Verve was his first release as a leader in quite a long time and his most rewarding recording since the prime years of Weather Report, 15 years before. Shorter and keyboardist Rachel Z spent a year working on developing and orchestrating his ideas and the results are these nine originals. Although use was made of orchestral horns and strings, most of the backing in these often-dense ensembles is by a standard rhythm section (which includes Marcus Miller on electric bass and bass clarinet) and Rachel Z's synthesizers. The pieces set moods rather than state singable melodies, are not afraid to utilize electronic rhythms now and then in an unpredictable fashion, and are both intelligent and largely danceable. However, Shorter's playing (not only on soprano and tenor but a bit of alto and baritone) is always distinctive and he sounds very much as if he is pushing himself. In fact, his emotional statements and the complexity of the ensembles push this music way above virtually all of the so-called "contemporary jazz" (which is often merely a synonym for jazzy pop) into the idiom of creative music. It helps for listeners to have a liking for the sound of Weather Report (even though this group is not a copy), but even Shorter's older fans will find his playing here to be quite stimulating.

Customer Reviews

A landmark recording (At least TEN stars!)

Anyone seriously interested in creative music cannot pass this recording by labeling it "fair", in spite of Marcus Miller's pop-like production style, which deserves praise all by itself. The original, and highly creative contrapuntal features showcased on every track here are elements which have not yet been seen on the jazz scene at large. Wayne Shorter is bringing several important compositional components to the table in this otherwise player-oriented medium of creativity; Counterpoint and the Extended Form – previously owned by the cartel of composers in the European classical genre – are wound up to perfection, a rare feature in jazz. Due to this album and several other albums by Wayne Shorter (most notably Atlantis and several Weather Report outings), he opens a door with a threshold still waiting to be crossed by the "young lions". Here's THE master. Perhaps Wayne is yet another creative genius who has to die before people of a wider scale will understand his importance.

Different

Very Different from the Wayne Shorter during the Miles Davis days but absolutely terrific nonetheless!

Tips for Fans of Shorter

Don't come to this album expecting long solos over a hard swinging rhythm section--like Shorter's terrific 60's albums. Instead, think of this as an orchestral album. Yes, you will hear elements of solo+rhythm section, but listen to the way bassist Marcus Miller and keyboardist, Rachel Z, break away from the typical drums-bass-keyboard unit and become components in the larger orchestra (Shorter utilized a thirty member orchestra for teh recording). The parts they play really sound terrific. While the keys and bass often sound more like equal members of an orchestra, the drummers mostly stay grounded in a simple back-beat groove and seem to serve a more metronomic function (don't expect incendiary accompaniment a la Elvin Jones, Tony Williams or Blakey).

Generally, Shorter doesn't play a typical jazz lead role, either--no long, burning solos; sometimes he'll play the lead melody, but then at other times he'll become another component of the orchestra. If you can let go of the desire to hear the type of fiery solos Shorter played in the past, and approach his playing as a part of a larger ensemble, you shouldn't have trouble appreciating the artistry in this music. (I recommend listening to this on a good sound system that allows you to clearly hear all the instrumentation.)

A word on the rock-pop aspects of the album. I know some jazz fans will have problems with the use of synthesizers, electric bass and back-beats. But if you think these things are inherrently bad or that they automatically mean an artist has sold out, there's not much I can say, except get over it! Instrumentation and back-beats don't determine the quality of music.

To summarize, don't expect to hear a Wayne Shorter album of the 60s. Yes, he made some great recordings, played with some hard-swinging rhythm sections and created those wonderful "egg-scrambling" solos. Let go of your need to hear those things (You always can go back to the older albums.), and open yourself up to what Shorter was interested in at this time, namely writing and arranging in an orchestral setting. If you do, you'll discover that he didn't lost it, but only got better with time!

Biography

Born: August 25, 1933 in Newark, NJ

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Though some will argue about whether Wayne Shorter's primary impact on jazz has been as a composer or as a saxophonist, hardly anyone will dispute his overall importance as one of jazz's leading figures over a long span of time. Though indebted to a great extent to John Coltrane, with whom he practiced in the mid-'50s while still an undergraduate, Shorter eventually developed his own more succinct manner on tenor sax, retaining the tough tone quality and intensity and, in later years, adding an element...
Full Bio

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