Greeted by a standing ovation, Wayne Shorter and the band he's been playing with since 2000 took the stage on Friday night for the first of two sold out concerts at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center: Brian Blade on drums, John Patitucci on bass, Danilo Perez on piano, with Shorter on tenor and soprano saxophone. For the next hour and forty minutes the quartet performed a set evocative of familiar material from this legendary composer, some phrases from Footprints, but not quite. Accumulated and contextualized by what went before, the music was intellectually rigorous. At first the listener had to grasp the abstraction of the composition, how an element of surprise is found in this structure. I actually had the feeling that the music had no center, just fanciful engaging riffs. As John Patitucci performed, draped over his bass, he became the center, and so on. Then Blade on his snare and Perez on piano would pick up a thread. Not until an encore when the group played a variation of Joy Ryder, did each instrument talk tightly to the next.
The performance to my literary mind was governed by the aesthetics of spontaneity, much as the writer Jack Kerouac crafted the best of his deeply poetic novels, in the moment. The musicians, confident of Shorter's composition, made it fresh each time. In Kerouac's words, they had IT. Time stopped.
The fans, I'm told many were musicians themselves, had packed the space and retreated in hushed tones. One said, he'd had a religious experience. Amen.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.