Wayne Shorter: A Love for the Abstract, the Mystical

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I listened again to Miles Davis‘s album Nefertiti the other day. Like Davis’s album Water Babies, all the compositions were by saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Tracks like “Fall” are ambiguous and strange; does the title refer to the fall of man or just the season? Will we ever know?

Wayne Shorter wrote amazing compositions, which is probably why an artist as egotistical and controlling as Miles Davis let him write all the compositions on both of these albums. Shorter’s writing, like his improvisations, is very much like abstract painting. “Nefertiti” features the same riff over all twelve keys, in an endless circle of repetition.

Plug-CD1-9I interviewed Wayne Shorter a couple of times during my days hosting Morning Becomes Eclectic. After transcrbing the interviews for my first book, Stolen Moments, I thought he sounded like a real space cadet. He also liked talking about science fiction and fantasy literature. Both his work with and post-Miles reflects his interest, too. Just listen to his elliptical solo on “Green Dolphin Street” from the Plugged Nickel set. He plays most of his solo a note off the root, which makes the solo really interesting.

Later quintet albums (the so-called “quintet” albums on Columbia that started with E.S.P. in 1965) show a band that is totally and telepathically together. Spanning three years and six CD’s, Miles and Wayne spin out phenomenal solos, and the great rhythm section of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams is pure artistic genius.

I will also recommend the Plugged Nickel sessions in Chicago from December 1965, first issued in Japan and later here which are not part of the six-CD box and are live recordings in a small Windy City club. I prefer the Japanese production masters box of this set because they cut out some of the crowd and interstitial noise. There are, however, other versions available. The Japanese LP versions (2 LP’s total) are also great. As I just mentioned, Wayne Shorter’s solo on “On Green Dolphin Street” is absolutely stunning. Miles Davis purists consider the Plugged Nickel recordings the best the group ever did.

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