A happy convergence of releases invites us to consider 40-plus years in the musical life of Wayne Shorter. Just out is Live in Europe 1969, an extraordinary archival set focused on Miles Davis’s so-called Lost Quintet, the vehicle for the trumpeter’s first extended electric-jazz explorations and the second major Davis unit to feature Shorter. Arriving Tuesday 5 is Without a Net, the 79-year-old saxophonist’s third LP with the working quartet that’s become arguably his greatest-ever bandleading venture.
The two groups are very different—the Lost Quintet bridging postbop, plugged-in funk and pure-texture sound play, and the current Shorter quartet, which joins him at Carnegie Hall this week, playing an uncommonly mutable, open-ended strain of modern acoustic jazz—but they share a staunch commitment to improvisational risk. Spin Shorter’s possessed Lost Quintet romps back-to-back with “Myrrh,” a Without a Net interlude that finds him keening over a clanking antigroove, and it’s clear that he’s only grown more tempestuous.
The interim between these recordings has also found Shorter ramping up his compositional ambition. He’s long been stretching in this area, as demonstrated by 1965’s meticulously plotted suite, The All-Seeing Eye, and 1985’s lush fusion opus, Atlantis. But Without a Net’s 23-minute “Pegasus,” abetted live on Friday 1 by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, is a true jazz-meets-classical feast that affords both elements ample room to breathe and mingle. It’s the latest in a series of urgent reminders that Shorter’s present-tense evolution is as impressive as his past triumphs.—Hank Shteamer
Follow Hank Shteamer on Twitter: @DarkForcesSwing