Wynton Marsalis and special guest Wayne Shorter at the Barbican

Review of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and Special Guest Wayne Shorter at the Barbican.

Historically, most people are used to hearing saxophonist Wayne Shorter with his quartet, a group that plays on about 50 years’ worth of his music. 82 year-old Shorter is pretty much the best composer from the post-war jazz era and to many listeners his compositions represent an ideal for how jazz works.

However, this isn’t the only jazz ideal. Last night at the Barbican Shorter did something different and joined Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as a concert soloist: interpreting new versions of Shorter’s compositions from his own records and others’. This project had its first showing in New York last year but it was the UK debut for Wayne Shorter and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. It marked the beginning of a three-day Barbican residency for Wynton Marsalis. 

Wayne Shorter is perhaps best known for his key contributions to Art Blakey and Miles Davis’ work and has generated an incredible body of work over the years. Between the 50’s and the 90’s he has worked with all the jazz greats and has defined the way we listen to jazz.

All of the compositions were newly arranged by various members of the 15-piece orchestra, directed by Wynton Marsalis. The best known may have been “E.S.P.,” from Miles Davis’s 1965 album and the earliest was “Mama ‘G,’ ” first heard on a 1959 Wynton Kelly record. Most of the music played was released on either Blue Note or Columbia records (see set list below).

The impressive concert was a reversal of how we’re used to hearing Wayne Shorter. His improvised contributions were restricted to a series of smaller solos built into the large-ensemble arrangements.

On the art of improvisation, Shorter stated “when I’m improvising I’m composing quickly and when I’m composing I’m improvising slowly”.

Trumpeter Marsalis did the talking throughout, introducing each song with a brief explanation from Shorter’s perspective. Marsalis on the piece “E.S.P.” said: “when you let go of things, other things come through.” 

Generally, Shorter’s solos overlapped with the return of the ensemble arrangements or were directly picked up and responded to by another soloist in the ensemble. These arrangements cleverly exposed the beauty of Shorter’s writing giving you a lot to hear.
His improvising was free, with meaningful gaps around his phrases giving time for the audience to applaud. One major exception to this smaller solo format was Mr. Shorter’s long, discursive solo in “Contemplation,” arranged by Sherman Irby.

Wynton Marsalis features as a special guest on Jazz Travels 19th February at 6pm with Sarah Ward.

For more information on the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Barbican residency follow this link.

Set list:

  1. Yes or No (JuJu, 1964)
  2. Diana (Native Dancer, 1975)
  3. Lost (Soothsayer, 1979)
  4. Endangered Species (Atlantis, 1985)
  5. Infant Eyes (Speak No Evil, 1964)
  6. Hammer Head ( Free For All, 1967)
  7. E.S.P (E.S.P, 1965)
  8. Armageddon (Night Dreamer, 1964)
  9. The Three Marias (Atlantis, 1985)
  10. Contemplation (Buhaina's delight, 1963)
  11. Mama G (Introduding Wayne Shorter, 1959)



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