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For Your Consideration: Wayne Shorter Quartet's 'Without a Net'

Jonathan Wertheim
Staff Writer / @disgruntledjazz

I love to hear a working band. There is an unmistakable quality to the music of the working band, found in no other ensemble, no matter how accomplished it may be. There is a kind of ESP, a musical empathy, a sympathy in sound, that travels from one musician to all the others in the working band. You can hear it in Blakey's Jazz Messengers, in Wynton Marsalis' music, in Keith Jarrett's.

And you can hear it once again in Wayne Shorter's, if you get off the couch and buy his newest record - and return to Blue Note - Without A Net.

I've spent the last few years resenting Wayne Shorter. He released his last record in 2005, and so, while the band toured, and Shorter spent some time recovering from a health scare, we've been denied the music of one of the best working bands around, led by a master of composition and ensemble mood who has managed to keep us from hearing Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade for seven fucking years.

The Shorter band, though, has little in common with the working groups I listed above (even the Jazz Messengers, some of the best albums of which were largely created by Shorter himself). It's most akin to Charles Lloyd's quartet with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland.

The key to the sound of Lloyd and Shorter lies not in the elder statesman surrounding himself with young lions, but rather in finding unique voices from a new, exciting generation of jazz musicians, and sticking with those voices as they mature. The younger band members grow with their exposure to the master, and the sound of the master changes in relation to its shifting backdrop - if not substantially without it.

Without A Net is a focused record. It's intense - it lets you breathe, but it doesn't let you forget. And, with a twenty-three minute track followed by a twelve-minute one halfway through, it doesn't let you wander. The longest track was also, in my opinion, the weakest, but I admire the attempt. Shorter, at this stage in the game, doesn't need to take any risks, so it's always a pleasure to hear them taken anyway. The pulsing "Starry Night" is a highlight, as is the loosely grooving "S.S. Golden Mean".

The disc isn't perfect. It's a pleasure to hear Blade's nuanced drumming again, the thick harmonies and huge melodic presence of Perez, the deep support of Patitucci, but - as with Lloyd's group - the album ends up being a bit monotonal. Shorter was a master of deep, untouchable swing in the 1960s and of all kinds of groove in the '70s; neither shows up here. Instead, we get what we got in 2005 - a loose, soprano-heavy exploration of space and sound, masterful, but not innovative, even within the universe of the group itself.

Does it make the music less enjoyable, the record less exciting? Of course not. Does it make the New York Times features on Shorter and the obligatory reviews (like this one) of Without A Net a bit redundant? Yes.

In the end, the net is firmly in place - Shorter is a jazz master, assured of his place in jazz history, and his risks are mainly safe bets (I am, I'm sure, in the minority opinion on the twenty-minute track). But this is an enjoyable record, and a welcome reminder that he and the band are still doing their thing.

Wayne Shorter Quartet - Plaza Real

Jon Wertheim, a jazz writer and reviewer, writes at his jazz blog, The Disgruntled Jazz Critic, here at Nextbop, and on Twitter.