Growing up in the age of Weather Report, I’ll admit that it was difficult to gauge the breadth of Wayne Shorter’s importance as a composer in the modern jazz tradition. The new live set Without A Net provides a stirring reminder — like revisiting the velocity and daring of his earlier tenure with Art Blakey, and the strange new worlds he’d explore with Miles Davis, but in a brand-new context.
Due on February 5, 2013 from Blue Note, Without a Net includes a bracing new take on “Plaza Real,” an overlooked tune from the 1983 album Procession by Weather Report, which tended to be dominated compositionally by Joe Zawinul. Appearing here with an ace band featuring Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade at the drums, Shorter also casts a twilit glance on “Orbits,” originally found on the 1967 Davis collaboration Miles Smiles, and undertakes a 12-plus minute exploration of “Flying Down to Rio” — the title track from a 1933 musical film.
Still, it’s within the six featured originals that Without a Net lives up to the lofty aspirations of its title, and to the legend that Shorter built at Blue Note between 1964-70 as a solo artist — an incredibly fertile period that mirrored his time with Davis.
Even while pulling double duty, Shorter made his most daringly individualistic and delightfully enigmatic albums during that initial stint — now more than four decades back. Something of the period’s darker hues remains in his soloing, as does his under-reported willingness to play outside of harmonic and rhythmic conventions — notably here on “Pegasus,” a 23-minute tone poem. Still, listen closely: His solo references an indisputably classic recording like 1964′s Speak No Evil, illustrating Shorter’s canny ability to explore far and wide without losing his grip on the post-bop terra firma.
In fact, from the furtive intellect of “Starry Night” to the angular outbursts of “S.S. Golden Mean,” from the mystical intricacies of “Myrrh” to the turbulent roundhouses of “UFO,” Shorter (who, incredibly, will turn 80 this year) remains in complete command — both of song structure and of his horn. Ultimately, that ends up sparking an incisive, in-the-moment dialogue, just as it has since Shorter constructed this quartet more than a decade ago. Their names might not be on the front of the album, but Perez, Patitucci and Brian Blade each make notable contributions here — testament to their own growing reputations in this century, alongside a living master from the last one.
The bulk of ‘Without A Net,’ Shorter’s first Blue Note release in 43 years, was captured during a European tour in late 2011. “Pegasus,” which also features the Imani Winds, was recorded at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.