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Wayne Shorter

I was so busy last month I didn't get around to writing about Joshua Redman's Still Dreaming at SF Jazz. With Ron Miles on trumpet, Brian Blade on drums, and Scott Colley on bass, the band's name is a tribute to Old and New Dreams, the 70's group with Joshua's dad Dewey Redman, Charlie Hayden, Ed Blackwell, and Don Cherry. Still Dreaming played selections from the older group, and also new, and very challenging originals. "Believe it or not, that was a blues" Joshua said after one tune, and indeed even I wouldn't have known. I was about to proclaim Still Dreaming as the most important band in jazz (supplanting Wayne Shorter) until I heard the Wayne Shorter Quartet at SF Jazz Thursday night. They are still number one. With Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass, and Terri Lyne Carrington sitting in for Brian Blade on drums, the 83 year old Shorter seemed even more energetic than last year. And more forward. It is a very rare artist, in any discipline, that continues to constantly move forward. Even Miles got talked into revisiting the Gil Evans arrangements the month before he died by Quincy. (And it was a lovely performance. As much as I love late Miles, there wasn't a lot of innovation the last couple of years.) But Wayne not only has the best and most important group in jazz, it's also the most forward. Joshua will take over the mantle, but we are so lucky to have Wayne.
Last week the Brian Blade Fellowship Band played SF Jazz. Brian first formed the Fellowship with Loyola classmate John Cowherd in 1997, and between stints with Joshua Redman, Joni Mitchell, Kenny Garrett, Daniel Lanois, Bob Dylan, and Wayne Shorter, he has managed to keep the group together and have four Blue Note recordings to date. With Melvin Butler on soprano and tenor, Myron Walden on alto and bass clarinet (one of my favorite instruments!) and Chris Thomas on bass, the group is one of the most soulful, and creative, in jazz. Many of the tunes are written by Cowherd, whose style is an evocative blend of Evans, Corea, and Hancock. They horns often play in fourths and fifths, which give ambiguous major/minor possibilities for soloing (which I also love). They also have a very Celtic character (Coltrane reportedly practiced through Irish harp books). One is reminded that our Great American Music is a blend of African, Celtic, and European musics and folk tunes. Blade, as always, is explosive, exciting, abstract, but always groovy. Bravo!

What an amazing couple of weeks for music in the Bay Area.  Last night the Wayne Shorter Quartet opened a four night residency at SF Jazz.  I often write about the inter-connectedness of music and musicians, and lineage.  I am so fortunate to know and play with musicians who have played with Charlie Parker (Eddie Duran), Miles Davis and Santana (Benny Rietveld) and John McLaughlin and Wayne Shorter (Kai Eckhardt).  Wayne Shorter has been at the forefront of improvised music for over 50 years.  From Art Blakey, to Miles Davis (the "Second Great Quintet") to founding Weather Report, to studio work with Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan, to a solo career that started in the fifties and has now returned him to the Blue Note label - each one of these credits would be a life's work for any musician.  His current quartet, with Brian Blade, John Petitucci and Danilo Perez, has been together for 14 years, and fittingly for the composer of E.S.P., they have a telepathic level of communication.  As with his time with Miles (Herbie called it "controlled freedom") and Weather Report, a motif might signal a move to a different part of the composition, leaving perhaps 90% or so of the music improvised.  Patitucci and Blade have monster grooves - not only poly-rhythmic but multi-cultural.  Bossa funk bebop. Straight ahead salsa.  Shorter has always had an oblique, zen understatement to his playing and writing, and Perez and Patitucci and Blade have mastered his language, and propel him to great heights.  Randall Klein is correct that this is the finest working group in jazz, and Wayne is it's supreme living master.  To be fresh and challenging at the edge of the music, at age 80, is a unique and beautiful accomplishment.        

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