Wayne Shorter/Weather Report
Reviewed on this page:
Night Dreamer - Juju - Speak No Evil -
The Soothsayer - Etcetera - The All-Seeing Eye -
Adam's Apple - Schizophrenia - Super Nova -
Moto Grosso Feio -
Weather Report - Native Dancer - Jaco Pastorius -
Heavy Weather - 8:30 - Phantom Navigator - Joy
Ryder - High Life - Footprints Live! - Alegria - Beyond The Sound Barrier
Tenor/soprano saxophonist Wayne Shorter was part of the last great Miles Davis
group, and brought post-bop composition to its highest point (or at any, rate, its most sophisticated point) in the mid
1960s. After that, he made a ton of
money uninteresting fusion records, first with Weather Report, and
Perhaps the most common criticism of 70s fusion was that intelligent, capable jazz musicians were deliberately "playing dumb" to sell records to the (mostly white) masses,
and Wayne Shorter is Exhibit A in that argument.
Anyway, he's retained all of his chops and musical imagination to this day, but generally uses them only when he's
playing in an acoustic context - so choose carefully.
Hailing from New Jersey, Shorter came to New York in the late
50s, served an apprenticeship with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers for almost five years, then joined Davis, replacing
John Coltrane, a major influence on Shorter at the time. Moonlighting from Davis, Shorter made
his reputation with a string of adventurous albums featuring many of the best sidemen of the day. Then, when Davis
went fusion, Shorter split, soon forming Weather Report with keyboardist Joe Zawinul (also a Davis sideman), bassist
Miroslav Vitous, and an ever-changing lineup of percussionists. They became one of the biggest 70s jazz-fusion bands,
competing with Return To Forever and Shorter's former bandmate Herbie Hancock. They rose to
even greater commercial heights in the mid-70s after replacing Vitous with bass guitar virtuoso Jaco Pastorius. Around
the time Jaco self-destructed, the band ran out of steam, and by the late 80s Shorter was cranking out unimaginative easy-listening
"jazz" for yuppies to mellow out to after a long day of mergers and acquisitions; in the mid-90s he got his act back together, and now alternates between saccharine sideman appearances
and bracing abstract jazz.
There's a fine Wayne Shorter
fan site with discography, sound clips and all the usual goodies.
Introducing Wayne Shorter (1959)
On his VeeJay debut Shorter was already playing with some of New York's
finest players: Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul
Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums). (DBW)
Second Genesis (1960)
With Blakey (drums), Cedar Walton (piano) and Bob Cranshaw (bass).
Wayning Moments (1962)
With Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Eddie
Higgins (piano), Jymie Merritt (bass) and Marshall Thompson (drums).
Night Dreamer (1964)
A surprisingly mild set, with Morgan, McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums): the stately closer "Armageddon" is the only dramatic number.
But if the performances are overly laid-back - Tyner especially - they're ably performed: the coda on "Virgo" is gorgeous. And Shorter's tunes (he wrote all but the
"Oriental Folk Song") are pretty, though sometimes he overdoes his fascination with geometric melodic patterns ("Charcoal Blues").
Same crew minus Morgan, but this time the Coltrane pedigree - all were present or current Quartet members - is evident, with intriguing and rousing results.
All the tunes are Shorter's, but the compositions and his playing are so much like Trane it's uncanny, both on uptempo pieces like the African-influenced
title track, and moody work like "Deluge." All the tunes are solid, the musicians - particularly Tyner - are in top form,
and it manages to sound like an homage rather than a ripoff.
Speak No Evil (1965)
Shorter went on a tear in the mid-60s, releasing two albums a year filled with classic compositions and performances, in addition to his work
with Miles Davis, and though this is widely regarded as the best of the bunch, I don't recommend starting here.
Recorded with Davis bandmates Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter, plus Hubbard and Elvin Jones.
A melancholy mood permeates the disc, from the uptempo "Witch Hunt" to the ballad "Infant Eyes," but the tunes are more or less
standard bop ("Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum"), and the soloists rarely grab your attention (Hancock's solo on the title track is an exception) - Jones
in particular is uncharacteristically quiet. To my ears, the unsettling, well named "Dance Cadaverous" is the only standout composition.
Conventional, sedate and antiseptic next to mid-60s classics like Maiden
Voyage or Out To Lunch, though admittedly that's a tough standard.
The Soothsayer (rec. 1965, rel. 1980)
Though not released when initially recorded, this is well worth searching out: each composition is distinctive (none more than the stop/start title track),
and the performances - by Hubbard, Tyner, Carter, Tony Williams, and James Spaulding (alto sax) - are terrific.
Almost every track - all by Shorter except a stab at Sibelius's "Valse Triste" - is a highlight: the lovely ballad "Lady Day";
the uptempo "Angola" with exciting solos from all three horns, backed by explosive drumming from Williams.
Though easily the least famous participant, Spaulding is no slouch: his arresting playing on "The Big Push" smoothly incorporates melodic leaps, broad bent notes
and hypnotic repetition.
Etcetera (rec. 1965, rel. 1980)
A quartet with Hancock, Cecil McBee (bass) and Joe Chambers (drums). Like Soothsayer, this stayed in the can for fifteen years, but this time you can hear why:
it's excessively polite, the performances aren't as exciting and the compositions aren't as arresting as most of
Shorter's mid-60s work. Four tunes by Shorter, with the 5/4 "Indian Song" the standout, plus
Gil Evans' 6/8 "Barracudas (General Assembly)," a slender piece that feels even thinner when
stretched out to eleven minutes. The title track recalls Trane's modal work; "Penelope" is a surprisingly weightless
ballad; "Toy Tune" is generic bop - though Hancock is sensitive and expansive as always, there's just not much going on here.
Start with any other acoustic Shorter album: this one gives no clue about his impact and lasting influence.
The All-Seeing Eye (1966)
A song cycle about the creation of the universe, no less, and the compositions are appropriately epic, from the grandiose title track to the uneasily placid "Face Of The Deep."
The first-rate supporting cast - Hubbard, Hancock, Spaulding, Carter, Joe Chambers on drums and Grachan Moncur III on trombone - adapts to each changing mood, never underplaying or overplaying: they sound like a big band on the opening of "Genesis," then drop out to a somber bass solo before building back up.
As a special treat, Wayne's brother Alan Shorter plays flugelhorn on his "Mephistopheles," which has the same startling shifts and abrupt about-faces so prevalent in Wayne's own tunes.
Adam's Apple (1966)
Unusually blues-oriented and accessible for Shorter: he covers Jimmy
Rowles' "502 Blues (Drinkin' and Drivin')," the title track is a familiar-sounding blues, and "El Gaucho" is another
straightforward crowdpleaser. But he also gets in his share of off-kilter classic compositions, notably "Footprints"
(also recorded with Davis), and "Teru." (The CD has a bonus track, Hancock's "The Collector".) The quartet format puts Shorter
in the spotlight, and his harmonic ideas make up for an occasional lack of melodic flow. Herbie
Hancock is startling as usual, Chambers beats the drums mercilessly, and Workman is vibrant and stately on bass.
With Hancock, Carter, Spaulding (on sax and flute), Joe Chambers, and Curtis Fuller (tuba).
A mix of conventional post-bop and inexplicable weirdness: "Playground" starts with a horn-heavy theme but falls apart mid-song and reconstructs itself as
a bare-bones solo vehicle; "Tom Thumb" has a swinging bossa nova rhythm crossed with blaring horns;
the title track starts with gorgeous, ghostly reed interplay then abruptly shifts to driving bop. "Kryptonite" has some unusual syncopation and features
some odd blends of flute and tuba.
But the record never sounds obtrusively experimental, because the tunes are so strong ("Tom Thumb"), the musicians are so together, and there are no
failures: the ballad "Miyako" is the least valuable cut on the record, and there's nothing really wrong with it.
Super Nova (1969)
Shorter's decline into directionless fusion mush started right here. The lineup here contains the germs of three of the biggest 70s fusion
acts: Mahavishnu Orchestra's John McLaughlin is on guitar, future Return To Forever pianist Chick Corea is on drums and vibes, and Weather Report is represented by Miroslav Vitous (bass) and Airto
Moreira (percussion). Also appearing are guitarist Sonny Sharrock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The furious title track points out the potential of this talent mix, with Sharrock and McLaughlin laying
guitar lines on a percussive base, with Shorter's soprano in the stratosphere. But the rest of the tracks are just low-key impressionistic
jams: the tuneless "More Than Human"; Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Dindi," which alternates between vocalist Maria Booker backed only by
classical guitarist Walter Booker, and full-band improvisation.
Three of the songs were also recorded with Davis, and where the Hancock/Carter/Williams
group had invested the compositions with urgent purpose, here they're just dull: "Capricorn" is a raid on the thundering
drums and deliberate pace of Coltrane's "Psalm," but without a strong theme; a formless "Water Babies"; and an overly mellow
version of "Swee' Pea."
Moto Grosso Feio (rec. 1970, rel. 1974)
When you try to do collective improvisation but nobody comes up with anything, it sounds
like a band tuning up, and this disc is forty minutes of that.
The worst excesses of the previous record are continued, as the tracks are even longer, quieter, and less coherent (the never-ending,
never-starting title track). A theme does threaten to emerge half-way through
"Montezuma," but that's as close as we get.
McLaughlin, Corea (on marimba and other percussion) and Vitous are back, joined by Ron Carter (cello and bass),
Dave Holland (acoustic guitar and bass) and Michelin Prell (drums).
All so-called compositions by Shorter, except Milton Nascimento's "Vera Cruz," which interpreted by this crew is as aimless
and turgid as the rest.
Rightly canned after recording, but inflicted on the public after the huge commercial success of Weather Report.
Odyssey Of Iska (1970)
Nobody from the previous discs is featured except bassists Carter and McBee; instead we've got David Friedman (vibes),
Gene Bertoncini (guitar), Billy Hart and Al Mouzon (drums), and Frank Cuome (percussion). (DBW)
Weather Report (Weather Report: 1971)
The leaders here are Shorter and keyboard
player Joe Zawinul, both straight out of
the Miles Davis band, and bassist Miroslav
Vitous (the rhythm section of Mouzon, Moreira and Barbara Burton on this debut record didn't even make it to
the second one). The three front men split the songwriting credits all around,
and the spirit of communalism extends to the music. Maybe it's not such
a good thing; with all three of them playing all the time, it ends up a
near-total cacophony - kind of like live Cream with the volume turned all the way down.
On most numbers it's a struggle to make out the time signature, much
less the "soloist," much less the "melody." Only a couple pieces like
Shorter's soothing, audibly funky "Tears," complete with uncredited,
wordless vocal, approach traditional music by any definition. This isn't
"fusion," it's madness. The good news is the music's relaxing tone:
Zawinul plays a shimmering, watery electric piano; Vitous is quiet and
inoffensive; there's a ton of ethereal Brazilian percussion and
brush-heavy drumming; and Shorter lays the soprano sax on as light as
possible. The end product is nicely creepy and reasonably unique, if
impenetrable; you might enjoy it as background noise. (JA)
Sing The Body Electric (Weather Report: 1972)
Shorter, Zawinul and Vitous are joined by Eric Gravatt (drums) and Dom Um Romao (percussion), with a few
guests including Hubert Laws (flute). (DBW)
Live In Tokyo (Weather Report: 1972)
No guests this time. (DBW)
Sweetnighter (Weather Report: 1973)
The five-man lineup is augmented with some guests, including Muruga (percussion, later of Muruga And The Soda Jerks),
Andrew White (English horn) and Herschel Dwellinghan (drums).
Mysterious Traveller (Weather Report: 1974)
Vitous apparently left while this album was being made; most bass chores are handled by Alphonso Johnson. Meanwhile,
Gravatt was replaced by Ishmael Wilburn and/or Skip Hadden. (DBW)
Native Dancer (1974)
A Shorter solo project in name, but Brazilian legend Milton Nascimento is so prominently featured on guitar and vocals that Shorter often seems secondary.
Nascimento even writes a majority of the tracks ("Ponta De Areia," a lovely melody which was later borrowed by Earth Wind & Fire).
I'm not crazy about his vocals here - high-pitched and detached, like he's perpetually stoned ("Tarde") - and his tunes aren't particularly sophisticated but they're fun ("Lilia").
Shorter's on soprano almost exclusively here, and as usual when he picks up the instrument, he restricts himself to toothless ornamental lines ("Beauty And The Beast") - the difference
in energy level when he switches to tenor is jolting ("Miracle Of The Fishes").
The players includes Hancock (who contributed "Joanna's Theme") and Moreira, plus Wagner Tiso (keys), Jay Graydon
(guitar), Dave McDaniel (bass) and Roberto Silva (drums). (DBW)
Tale Spinnin' (Weather Report: 1976)
It was the Zawinul-Shorter show by now: they played nearly everything, though Johnson's still on bass; percussionist
Alyrio Lima appears on just one track, and James Ndugu Chancler on two. (DBW)
Black Market (Weather Report: 1976)
More personnel changes: the drummer is Narada Michael Walden, Don Alias
is on percussion, and Jaco Pastorius alternates with Johnson on bass. (DBW)
Jaco Pastorius (Jaco Pastorius: 1976)
- The first player to seriously try to play melodic, horn-like lines
on electric bass, Pastorius had a tremendous influence, inspiring
thousands of musicians to buy fretless electrics and play endless
solos. He also had a very limited bag of tricks: a heavy, echoey
sound, a very fast playing technique (in tune, unlike most of his
imitators), and frequent use of harmonics. It gets old very
quickly, but he keeps things reasonably interesting by trying on a
wide range of styles and arrangements. There's his famous take on
Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," and the unaccompanied "Portrait of
Tracy." Then there's a soul number with Sam & Dave ("Come On, Come
Over"), some straight jazz ("Continuum," "Speak Like A Child"),
steel drums ("Opus Pocus"), and a New Age-y piece with French horn
("Okonkolé y Trompa"). The tunes are catchy but obvious, and
most of them are dragging by the end. There's an army of guest
stars (Shorter, Lenny White, Don Alias, Hubert Laws, the
Brecker Brothers, Narada Michael Walden) but the record's savior is
Herbie Hancock, who contributes jaw-
dropping solos on "(Used To Be A) Cha Cha" and "Kuru/Speak Like A
- Wilson's got all the details right, but he's missing the big
picture. This is a broad, engaging, intelligent, and technically
impressive work, fusion in the best sense of the word. And it's
historically important as a breakthrough in bass playing - Jaco's
technique may seem "old" only because it's now so widely imitated.
Oh, I don't know: Hendrix and Trane are even
more widely imitated, but their musical palettes are broad enough that I
never get bored with them. (DBW)
Heavy Weather (Weather Report: 1977)
By now Weather Report had embraced jazz-rock-R&B
fusion and became a massive commercial success on par with contemporary
rock acts. The key factor was adding Pastorius
to the lineup, which at this point included Shorter, Zawinul, and the
facile Latin percussion section of Alex Acuña (drums) and Manolo Badrena (percussion). The three leaders produced and wrote
the whole album, and it's a surprisingly quiet batch of instrumentals -
much softer than the title would suggest, and not nearly as hard-edged
as contemporary fusion efforts by, say, Jeff
Beck or Joni Mitchell.
That often pushes it close to pure mood music, inoffensive to the point
of being completely forgettable; Zawinul's catchy, but amazingly
repetitive hit "Birdland" is a typical example. The good points are
Zawinul's obsession with his Arp synthesizer, resulting in a shimmering
cascade of notes; and Pastorius' slightly dissonant, unpredictable
fretless bass lines, which occasionally burst forth into terrifying
displays of technical expertise ("Teen Town"). (JA)
Also this year Shorter toured with a bunch of other Davis alumni as V.S.O.P.; the tour produced an
excellent live album. (DBW)
Mr. Gone (Weather Report: 1978)
Peter Erskine replaces Acuña, Tony Williams guests on two tracks, and Maurice White adds
vocals to "And Then." (DBW)
8:30 (Weather Report: 1979)
By now Weather Report's schtick was so commercially successful that they released a double live album. Most of Zawinul's
best-known songs are here: "In A Silent Way," "A Remark You Made," "Birdland." There's also Jaco's "Teen Town." The bad
news is, the musicians just ramble: Zawinul is very quiet, emerging only to play listless melodic fragments; Erskine
similarly lays low; Jaco focuses on quantity of notes rather than quality; and Shorter succeeds in keeping his
phenomenal harmonic and rhythmic abilities completely under wraps.
Even his solo feature ("Thanks For The Memory") is more a display
of technique than musicianship. And the crowd eats it up. (DBW)
In 1979 Shorter began a lengthy association with Joni Mitchell - he played on Mingus, and
has appeared on nearly every Mitchell album since. (DBW)
Night Passage (Weather Report: 1980)
The formula continues, with endless arpeggios from Pastorius, minimal melancholies from Zawinul, and not much of anything from Shorter.
Erskine hung onto the drummer's chair longer than anyone else ever had; Robert Thomas, Jr. adds hand percussion.
Review coming soon.
Word Of Mouth (Jaco Pastorius: 1982)
Shorter appears on two tracks: "Crisis" and "John And Mary." (DBW)
Weather Report (Weather Report: 1982)
Same personnel as Night Passage. (DBW)
Procession (Weather Report: 1983)
Sportin' Life (Weather Report: 1985)
Once again, the whole band fell apart except for Zawinul and Shorter; the new lineup was Victor Bailey (bass),
Omar Hakim (drums), and Manu Cinelu (percussion), who contributes a folk song in Haitian Creole that's the record's not-so-high high point.
Review coming soon. (DBW)
Domino Theory (Weather Report: 1985)
Same personnel; Carl Anderson sings on "Can It Be Done." (DBW)
A return to solo work, with Jim Walker (flutes), Larry Klein (bass), Yaron Gershosky and Michiko
Hill (piano), Acuña, and a bunch of vocalists. (DBW)
This Is This (Weather Report: 1986)
The last gasp. Shorter, Zawinul, Bailey, Erskine (alternating with Hakim), and Mino Cinelu (percussion), plus
vocalists Marva Barnes, Coleen Coil, Siedah Garrett and Darryl
Phinnesse. Carlos Santana guests on "Man With The Copper Fingers." (DBW)
Phantom Navigator (1987)
Boy, did the 80s suck. After almost twenty years of preoccupation with Brazilian percussion, Shorter discovered
drum programming, and the result is dreadful, with obvious, clanging 4/4 beats on almost every track. Meanwhile, the
harmonic foundation is laid down by bland sustained synth chords, and too-fast tempos give the record an annoying
perky quality ("Condition Red"). "Remote Control" is proof positive that slap and pop bass isn't what makes a song
funky. All in all, the sound is strikingly close to contemporaneous Pointer Sisters albums,
except that Shorter's melodies are even less sophisticated ("Forbidden, Plan-It!") and his super-smooth tone on soprano
quashes any possibility of emotional impact. The one exception is "Mahogany Bird," where the percussion is subtle, the
pace is slow and contemplative, and Shorter's flights of fancy are inspired. The musicians include Gary Willis, Alphonso
Johnson, and John Patitucci (bass), Mitchell Foreman, Jim Beard, Jeff Bova, and Stu Goldberg (keys), and Ron Brechtlein,
Bill Summers, Scott Roberts and Jimmy Bralower (drum programming and percussion).
Joy Ryder (1988)
One listen to this, and you'll know why Wynton Marsalis became a crusader against
fusion. Here the trouble's not with the first-rate
supporting cast - Patrice Rushen, Nathan East, Teri Lyne Carrington, plus guests Herbie Hancock, Geri
Allen and vocalist Dianne Reeves - but with the compositions, and Shorter's leads. Based on simpleminded melodic
motives and routine R&B chord progressions, not a single tune is memorable, and whenever the band threatens to get a
good groove going ("Over Shadow Hill Way," the stately opening of "Causeways"), Shorter spoils it with his syrupy note
cascades (principally on soprano, though he also plays tenor). Not as pop-savvy as Kenny G, and no more ambitious - just
a waste of time. Produced by Shorter. (DBW)
High Life (1995)
Synth-fusion again, but in contrast to the stultifying late 80s records, this is engagingly complex.
All the tunes are by Shorter, and while they sometimes veer into Easy Listening territory (the opening "Children Of The
Night"), generally they use subtle melodic lines and chord layers
to achieve an abstract beauty ("At The Fair"). Rachel Z.'s cheeesy synth tones (which sound like factory presets) detract
a bit from the experience, but Shorter does get bonus points for using a quote from one of my favorite novels, Lord
Dunsany's The Charwoman's Shadow, as an epigraph. Produced by Marcus Miller, who also
played bass and did some drum programming; other musicians include David Gilmore (guitar),
Will Calhoun and Terri Lynn Carrington (drums), Lenny
Castro and Moreira (percussion), and a faintly recorded 30-piece orchestra.
In 1997 Shorter cut a terrific duet album with Hancock, 1+1. (DBW)
Footprints Live! (2002)
A quartet with drummer Brian Blade, pianist Danilo Perez and bassist John Pattitucci.
The setlist draws from Shorter's 60s heyday - "Juju," "Go," etc. -
and in fact the band generally succeeds in recreating the ambitious, unpredictable atmosphere of the Davis-Shorter-Hancock-Carter-Williams quintet, often tossing the melody aside in favor
of wide-ranging exploratory improvisation ("Sanctuary"). Blade doesn't have Williams's power, of course, and Perez's approach, drawing on his background in Latin music, is more structured
than Hancock's, but that structure is welcome, because it's often the only thing keeping the quartet from pure abstract noise ("Masqualero"). At worst it's a hard-to-follow intellectual
exercise ("Atlantis"), but more often the results are as exciting as they are unexpected (the tempo- and mood-fluid title track).
Produced by Shorter.
All acoustic, and both sides of Shorter are audible: there's dramatic and intense post-bop, mostly featuring the Footprints Live!
band ("Sacajawea"), and there's drippy muzak (Villa-Lobos's "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5," where a sickly
sweet cello line obliterates everything in its path; Leroy Anderson's "Serenata"). Two remakes of 60s Shorter tunes illustrate the difference:
"Angola" is even more tense and taut than before, while "Orbits" is arranged for orchestral winds and slowed down to irrelevance.
It's not quite that cut and dried - the
low-key interpretation of the folk song "She Moves Through the Fair" is lovely - but it's close.
Several tunes usually have Brad Mehldau and Carrington subbing for Perez and Blade,
and a bunch add Alex Acuña on percussion ("12th Century Carol").
Beyond The Sound Barrier (2005)
Another live album by the Footprints Live! quartet, and again the approach is abstract, whether they're playing new Shorter compositions (title track) or oldies (Arthur Penn's "Smilin' Through"; Mendelssohn's "On Wings Of Song"). In fact, it can be hard to tell what the heck is going on ("As Far As The Eye Can See"), particularly with the emphasis on organic group improvisation rather than soloing ("Adventures Aboard The Golden Mean"). If you're not listening hard (and maybe even if you are), it may sound chaotic and scattershot, except when Perez's piano vamps are providing an anchor.
Giddily, the band even reinterprets two tunes from the execrable Joy Ryder: they manage to turn that record's title tune into a rapturous jam, but "Over Shadow Hill Way" remains rather a mess, despite some shining moments.
Produced by Shorter.
Speak lots of evil.