Without needing an introduction, Wayne Shorter and his quartet casually stroll onto the stage and approach their instruments. The 83 year old settles himself on what has become a trademark high-stool that lies within easy reach of either his tenor or soprano sax stand. No words are addressed to the crowd at the packed out National Concert Hall and without fanfare or pageantry they begin to play.
The opening piece is a close to 40 minute blend of composition and improvisation, with pages of sheet music spread out across the top of Danilo Perez’ grand piano. It’s a mesmerising and entrancing free-jazz journey through a series of passages and motifs, at times diverging into complete abstraction before converging again harmoniously. It’s a downbeat and explorative performance that showcases the cohesiveness of this quartet that have been together now for 16 years. In that time they have recorded three live albums, Footprints Live, Beyond the Sound Barrier and Without a Net, and it is in a similar vein tonight that the quartet explore deconstructed and reworked versions of Shorter’s compositions.
A furious burst of applause after 45 minutes marks the end of this first piece, as Perez and bassist John Patitucci tentatively approach the next composition, fleshing out a delicate piano passage that is eventually joined by the rhythm section to the tune of “Zero Gravity to the 10th Power”. This second half of the set seems to feature bite sized, accessible numbers by comparison to the epic opening number, with tracks weighing in at a mere 11-15 minutes in length each. Brian Blade’s tight drum work occasionally erupts into flurries of improvised experimentation, with Patitucci’s staccatoed interplay paying close heed to every rhythmic sidestep.
The performance tonight is a testament to how solid a unit this quartet really are, with a level of musical conversation and depth of understanding that explains their long-standing collaboration. What’s most surprising is the octogenarian’s thirst for musical innovation at this stage of his career. Somehow his commitment to the craft and level of harmonic comprehension continues to grow with age, remarkably now putting him in the height of his career. The performance ends with a standing ovation from an audience captivated from the get-go, before being treated to an energetic finale.