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5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Wayne Shorter

by ballyhooglobal.com
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It reminds me of what it was like to hang out with him and talk to him. One minute he’d be talking about quantum physics, the next he’d be talking about pop culture. I miss talking to Wayne, and playing this particular composition makes me feel like I’m continuing my conversations with him.

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Fittingly, the music on “Juju,” Wayne Shorter’s second album for Blue Note, has a dark-arts energy about it. These six tracks can send you spiraling into yourself, sounding out unnamed feelings, lost — but then they’re always somehow liable to bring you back to center and confirm your strength, to leave you feeling fortified. That is partly the work of Elvin Jones’s steady drums: the loping ride cymbal; his judicious, devastating kick drum. Add Reggie Workman’s bass and McCoy Tyner’s piano, and you have a rhythm section entirely associated with Shorter’s mentor John Coltrane. But just as he had learned by now to take only what he needed from Coltrane’s style, as a composer and a soloist, Shorter bends this rhythm section around his own ear. He puts the band to work especially slyly on “House of Jade,” with a sticky and slow-moving bass line illuminating Shorter’s melody from odd angles.

When he recorded this album in August 1964, a 30-year-old Shorter was in the process of joining Miles Davis’s band, on Coltrane’s referral. With Davis’s second great quintet, Shorter would make some of the finest small-group jazz in history, but the commitment kept him from touring with his own groups. As far as hearing Shorter as a bandleader during his historic, blazing run of the mid-to-late ’60s, when he was writing and playing as well as any musician alive, all we’ve basically got is the studio records. And the first spell you should cast for yourself is “Juju.”

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As someone who’s delved deeply into Wayne Shorter’s entire catalog, the concept of space frequently arises in my thought process, particularly regarding how a musician’s career trajectory often evolves to reflect their perception of music and life. “Aung San Suu Kyi,” written and performed by Shorter, was inspired by the Burmese politician, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former leader of Myanmar, known for her long struggle for democracy and human rights. In this tune, you can hear various ideas that may correlate to an individual like her, from the simple beauty of the melody to the intense groove it leans against. It also displays a comfort in the unknown, with the notion that we are working together to present this experience.

Shorter’s ability to create beautiful melodies, as seen with “Aung San Suu Kyi,” embodies the essence of artistic expression at its highest form, weaving through the history of Black music. The tone and inflection of his horn, combined with the individualism of each player in his ensembles, demonstrate his deep understanding of sound exploration. From bands with Lee Morgan, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones to the ensemble Weather Report, and his last band with Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade, Shorter’s music reflects an understanding of changes in not just music but life itself. His compositions are not just tunes; they are narratives that engage listeners, inviting them to explore the depths of musical and emotional landscapes.

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Captivating. Dreamlike. Inspiring. Controlled. Free. These are some words that would describe my favorite song written by the brilliant composer Wayne Shorter — “Infant Eyes.” Released in 1966 on his album “Speak No Evil,” this revolutionary composition as well as the influential ensemble of musicians on the recording helped to nurture the beginning of my musical lineage. From my mother, who credits Wayne Shorter as being the catalyst of her musical journey as an artist, to my earliest experiences as a pianist, composer and bandleader through my mother, his musical impact has carried throughout generations.

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