Shorter, with quartet and Philharmonia, shines

By Kevin Lowenthal
Globe Correspondent / October 26, 2009

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The footprints of saxophonist/composer Wayne Shorter are all over the jazz landscape. His stints in the 1960s bands of Art Blakey and Miles Davis are legendary, and the tunes he wrote during that decade continue to challenge and inspire. In the 1970s, he cofounded jazz fusion avatars Weather Report. Since then, he has often concentrated on compositions incorporating expansive orchestral textures, blurring the boundaries between jazz and classical music. So it would be hard to imagine a more fitting figure to helm the culminating concert of the New England Conservatory’s “Hot and Cool,’’ a week of performances celebrating 40 years of jazz studies at NEC.

The evening’s first half featured Shorter’s current quartet. Rather than reflecting the standard dynamic of a soloist with backup, these are four virtuosos playing together, the figure inextricable from the ground. The music was mercurial, ranging from a murmur to a roar. On tenor saxophone Shorter supplied exquisitely vocalized aphorisms; on soprano sax he fluttered over and around the fray. Pianist Danilo Pérez roamed the keyboard, from rumbling jabs to delicate tinkling. John Patitucci’s sinewy bass and Brian Blade’s dancing drums seemed in constant conversation. The opening segment was a medley of Shorter’s “Zero Gravity’’ and “Sanctuary,’’ nearly half an hour long. A leisurely take on the traditional “She Moved Through the Fair’’ closed the first half.

For the second half, the nearly 100-player NEC Philharmonia took the stage before conductor Hugh Wolff and the quartet entered to present a series of Shorter compositions. For opener “Orbits’’ the Philharmonia set the scene with vast, moody swaths of orchestral color. Shorter soloed shyly on tenor, then Pérez’s funky piano introduced a quartet interlude, more conventional sounding than in the first half. The orchestra returned in a darker mood and Shorter switched to soprano, the better to soar and screech above the climactic strings and brass.

“Flagships’’ was a demonic march, with stomping basses and sprightly violins. “Midnight in Carlotta’s Hair’’ painted a massive, swaying processional, with Blade mischievously tap-dancing through. Closer “Forbidden Plan-it!’’ evoked a cinematic sea battle, punctuated with an engaging Shorter/Pérez duet. At the piece’s tumultuous end, the audience offered a standing ovation, tribute to this stirring merger of jazz and classical music and to the fruitful 40 years of the two forms cohabiting at NEC.


Hugh Wolff, conductor

At: NEC’s Jordan Hall,

Saturday night

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