Wayne Shorter Quartet performed at Berklee Performance Center on February 8
Wayne Shorter has long had a reputation for elusiveness — ever since he began to disappear by degrees from Weather Report, the pathbreaking jazz-rock outfit he founded with Joe Zawinul 40 years ago. For the past 10 years, Shorter has led another visionary group, his acoustic quartet with pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade. Their live performances have often been revelatory, the farthest extension of a modern jazz vocabulary that Shorter helped invent. In some of their best shows, they've ranged freely through Shorter's extensive catalogue of original tunes old and new, creating concert-long group improvisations held together not just by chops but by imaginative daring. In the process, they've become standard bearers for the possibilities of small-ensemble jazz.
But sometimes the Shorter quartet's willingness to be open to process doesn't leave much of an impression in terms of final product. That was the case Tuesday night at the Berklee Performance Center, where the band were playing their first Boston gig since an October 2009 New England Conservatory concert. The 90-minute set seemed to have been organized around new material. Everyone was working from music stands. They began with a series of impressionistic chords from Pérez, then some strong rhythmic patterns from Patitucci before Blade entered quietly with brushes and then Shorter, equally subdued on tenor sax, essaying his first statements with split, breathy tones. The music built in volume and rhythmic agitation, broke for some arco bass, some dulcimer piano figures, and a ballad melody. It advanced and receded, advanced and receded, Shorter leaving long rests between statements, Pérez providing transitions from one section of this unbroken, suite-like piece to another. There were starts and stops, bits of familiar melodies (the band later said these included the Shorter pieces "Zero Gravity," "Over Shadow Hill Way," and "She Moved Through the Fair"). Occasional thunderclap drum cadences would seem to indicate a coda; a couple of times these drew applause and then nervous, sympathetic laughs as the music continued.
There were hints of Shorter's distinctive nubby saxophone playing — especially a little burst at about mid set on soprano sax. And at times, he sketched some beautiful, brief lines in the air. For about five minutes, the performance even felt like jazz, with Pérez breaking out of his rhythmic patterns for some extended runs on the kind of asymmetrical lines that have been a signature of Shorter's compositions. But that didn't last. There was some 6/8 rhythm, some slow, understated 4/4, and some comical percussion by Pérez using the piano lid and a plastic water bottle, but no grooves to speak of. When Shorter turned to the piano to blow a few bars of bebop blues on tenor, it offered the relief of a musical joke. For most of the show, the band seemed to be enjoying themselves. They got more of the joke than I did.
: Live Reviews
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