Wayne Shorter’s Masqualero: Analysis of Jazz Covers

Wayne Shorter‘s “Masqualero” is a timeless jazz composition that has captured the imaginations of musicians and audiences alike since its first appearance on Miles Davis‘ 1967 album Sorcerer.

Its enigmatic melody, spaciousness, and harmonic ambiguity make it an ideal vehicle for improvisation and reimagining.

Over the decades, countless artists have put their distinctive stamp on this classic tune.

Each interpretation offers fresh insights, from Miles Davis’ definitive version to radical reworkings that incorporate diverse influences.

This article analyzes a selection of notable “Masqualero” covers, exploring how each artist transforms the piece while staying true to its core essence.

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Miles Davis’ “Masqualero”, Sorcerer (1967)

Miles Davis‘ 1967 recording of “Masqualero” on the album Sorcerer is widely recognized as the definitive version of the tune. His iconic quintet, featuring Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums, delivered a performance that set the standard for how this complex composition would be interpreted by future generations.

Davis’s version maintains the spacious and mysterious atmosphere of Shorter’s original composition. The trumpet solo is a masterclass in melodic invention, utilizing space and silence as expressive tools as much as the notes themselves. Shorter’s saxophone playing is characteristically angular and exploratory, weaving in and out of Davis’ lines.

The true brilliance of Davis’ “Masqualero” lies in the interplay of the entire band. Hancock, Carter, and Williams shift fluidly between supporting and pushing against the soloists. The rhythm section creates a sense of swirling momentum, propelling the music forward while still leaving ample room for improvisation.

The impact of the Sorcerer recording of “Masqualero” on jazz history cannot be overstated. It established the piece as a jazz standard. Moreover, it served as a showcase for Davis’ legendary Second Great Quintet, regarded as one of the most influential and innovative combos in the genre.

Miles Davis’ “Masqualero”, Live at the Fillmore East, March 7, 1970: It’s About That Time (1970)

The version of “Masqualero” captured on Live at the Fillmore East, March 7, 1970: It’s About That Time showcases Miles Davis venturing deep into the electric and experimental period of his career. This performance stands in stark sonic contrast to both Shorter’s original version and Davis’s own prior recording on Sorcerer.

Gone are the acoustic piano and upright bass, replaced by Chick Corea‘s distorted electric piano and Dave Holland‘s rumbling electric bass. The result is a denser and more aggressive iteration of “Masqualero”. This performance stretches the boundaries of the original, both harmonically and rhythmically.

Davis’ trumpet retains a melancholic quality, but his phrasing is sharper, more fragmented, echoing the avant-garde sensibilities of his bandmates. Shorter’s saxophone is blistering, pushing the tune into free jazz territory. Corea’s swirling chords and Holland’s relentless bass lines create a turbulent foundation. Jack DeJohnette‘s drumming emphasizes raw energy over precise swing.

This live performance offers a fascinating glimpse into Davis’s ongoing evolution. Where the Sorcerer recording emphasized control and melodic restraint, the Fillmore East version brims with untamed exploration. This “Masqualero” isn’t merely a cover, but a radical transformation, showcasing Davis’s commitment to pushing boundaries and defying expectations.

Chick Corea’s “Masqualero”, Piano Improvisations Vol. 2 (1971)

Chick Corea, having recently joined Miles Davis’ group, recorded a stunning solo piano rendition of “Masqualero” in 1971. This performance offers a unique window into Corea’s understanding of the composition and his own adventurous pianistic style.

From the outset, Corea playfully deconstructs the familiar melody of “Masqualero,” fragmenting and reassembling the theme with a sense of whimsy. His phrasing is unpredictable, with rhythmic displacement and sudden outbursts of dissonance. The performance feels less like a cohesive interpretation and more like a journey into the essence of the piece.

Corea demonstrates his dazzling virtuosity while simultaneously showcasing a less structured, more intuitive approach. At times, the standard’s framework is barely recognizable amidst cascades of arpeggios and spiky clusters of notes. Yet, the core harmonic and melodic spirit of Shorter’s original is always discernible, even when stretched to its limits.

The Piano Improvisations Vol. 2 rendition of “Masqualero” illustrates Corea’s reverence for the source material, but even more so, his desire to use it as a springboard for his own creativity. It is a testament to both his technical prowess and his bold improvisational spirit.

Nicholas Payton’s “Masqualero”, Mysterious Shorter (2006)

Nicholas Payton‘s version of “Masqualero,” featured on his tribute album Mysterious Shorter, blends respect for the composition’s roots with a distinctly contemporary perspective. While honoring Miles Davis’s iconic version, Payton adds his own distinctive voice to the mix.

Payton’s trumpet is warm and lyrical, yet retains a touch of the cool restraint that characterized Davis’s playing. He navigates the melody with grace and subtlety, emphasizing the evocative beauty of Shorter’s original composition.

The arrangement introduces modern touches by incorporating a Hammond organ, played by Sam Yahel. This adds a soulful and bluesy undercurrent to the piece, creating a sonic bridge between the tradition of 1960s hard bop and the sounds of Payton’s era.

Rhythmically, the band swings with a loose fluidity, more reminiscent of the organic feel of Shortner’s own recordings than the driving intensity of Davis’s electric bands. Payton’s solo showcases his harmonic sophistication and melodic inventiveness, incorporating bop-influenced lines and nods to the avant-garde.

Overall, Nicholas Payton’s “Masqualero” is a balanced interpretation that pays homage to the past while carving out its own space. It simultaneously showcases the enduring power of Shorter’s composition and Payton’s ability to reimagine the standard in a fresh but respectful way.

Conrad Herwig’s “Masqualero”, The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter (2008)

Conrad Herwig‘s take on “Masqualero” on The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter stands out for its innovative reimagining through a Latin jazz lens. This version sheds the darker, more introspective qualities of some interpretations and injects a vibrant, rhythmic energy.

Herwig’s alto saxophone takes center stage, delivering the melody with a clear, focused tone. However, the true transformation lies in the arrangement. Gone are the traditional bop instrumentation and harmonic framework. Here, a pulsating rhythm section featuring congas, piano, and bass propel the music forward with a distinctly Latin groove.

The complex counterpoint between Herwig’s melody and the rhythmic foundation creates a captivating tension. Pianist Luis Perdomo shines with his intricate voicings and tasteful use of space, while the rhythm section lays down a dynamic foundation that is both infectious and sophisticated.

Herwig’s solo improvisation incorporates elements of both jazz and Latin language. He seamlessly blends bebop phrasing with Latin-inspired flourishes, demonstrating his deep understanding of both styles. This unique fusion creates a fresh perspective on the familiar melody, showcasing the unexpected potential of “Masqualero” within a Latin context.

Sunny Jain Collective’s “Masqualero”, As Is (2002)

The Sunny Jain Collective‘s “Masqualero” is a singular reinterpretation that weaves together Indian musical influences, jazz sensibilities, and a free-wheeling improvisational spirit. Led by drummer and composer Sunny Jain, the Collective reframes Shorter’s iconic composition through a global lens.

At the heart of this version lies Jain’s use of the dhol, a traditional Indian double-headed drum. The dhol’s percussive patterns intertwine with a jazz rhythm section, creating a unique rhythmic tapestry. The melody is carried by both saxophone and the expressive vocals of Kavita Shah.

Shah’s performance infuses the tune with a sense of longing and soulful ornamentation, reminiscent of Indian classical music. Her vocalizations sit comfortably alongside the saxophone improvisations, adding a new layer of texture and cultural identity to the piece.

This “Masqualero” feels less like a strict cover and more like a collaborative reimagining. The band’s improvisatory instincts take precedence, with extended solo sections that venture freely away from the original structure. The result is a celebratory, energetic, and wholly unexpected exploration of the composition’s themes.


The diversity of interpretations explored in this analysis highlights the adaptability and profound depth of Wayne Shorter‘s “Masqualero”.

From Miles Davis‘ iconic explorations to the Latin-infused rhythms of Conrad Herwig and the global explorations of Sunny Jain Collective, this composition continues to inspire.

Each version analyzed offers a distinct perspective, expanding our understanding of the piece.

Whether it is Davis’ haunting trumpet, Corea‘s playful deconstructions, or Payton‘s respectful yet modernized take, each artist sheds new light on Shorter’s masterpiece.

Ultimately, “Masqualero” transcends the status of a mere jazz standard.

It is a testament to the enduring power of creative expression and the boundless possibilities that exist within a seemingly simple framework.

As future generations of musicians undoubtedly continue to uncover new facets within Shorter’s composition, “Masqualero” is destined to remain a wellspring of inspiration and innovation for decades to come.

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