The first night of the latest Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra residency, this was a very special occasion because to find Wayne Shorter on a stage together anywhere with Wynton Marsalis is not an every day event by any means.
Skain was sat by drummer Ali Jackson at the back in his customary place within the trumpet section, Wayne of course sat up front near the piano, the saxophonists in the orchestra you could tell slightly in awe and admiration in a line fanning out beside him.
The 82-year-old Miles Davis and Weather Report giant of jazz played on most pieces, the evening filled with his many classic compositions, and there was a certain democracy in the arranging of his music as quite a number of the 15-piece orchestra – Victor Goines, Walter Blanding, Ted Nash, Vincent Gardner, Marcus Printup, Chris Crenshaw, Carlos Henriquez, Ali Jackson, Sherman Irby and Wynton himself – contributed to the shape and style in their input.
The second set opened with ‘E. S. P,’ probably the pick of the whole evening, in terms of ensemble rapport speaking of which there’s a lightness of touch in all sections, power only when needed and such swift response to tempo and volume, the texture like silk or sable, the switches from saxes through trombones, reeds and flute skimming across the air to the rhythm section all part of a pulsing flicker and shimmer. The main rhythmic pull and push was left to Henriquez, whose arrangement of ‘The Three Marias’ let the music breathe and murmur.
Wynton name-checked Wayne very respectfully many times, sometimes referring to him by his first and last name, sometimes “Mr Shorter” and the Newark-born great, switching from tenor which he began the concert with on ‘Yes or No’ from JuJu to soprano for large chunks of the concert the tenor coming back sometimes. His soprano playing was just beautiful at times, containing that oblique sense of mystery and musical alchemy that for decades he has conjured so uniquely, the beauty in his interpreting even the most naked of notes so striking and unforgettable.
Wayne Shorter with members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra above during the soundcheck. Photo: JALCO on Twitter
With the Open Source festival reaching a climax outdoors in Gillett Square as darkness fell, the usual Sunday night jam got underway after nine.
But ‘usual’ is relative and as ever the line-up of Riepler’s band isn’t known until the night and neither is the set list. The Austrian guitarist whose album Wild Life is one of the best modern mainstream albums I’ve heard this year had come from a gig earlier in the day at the Elderfield pub in Clapton and had brought saxist Rachael Cohen with him to join the jam’s regular bassist Dave Whitford and for one night only special guest US drummer Jason Brown who you may have heard play with Monty Alexander in the Jamaican-American's trio at Ronnie Scott’s last week. Brown was using a kit loaned to the session by drummer Tim Giles. As ever various musicians were in the audience (I didn’t stay for the second set when jammers were to get up) including pianist Bruno Heinen snapping a few pics of the band standing by the crowded bar like a fan.
The set began with ‘Up Against the Wall,’ Cohen’s old school tenor drawing on a Hank Mobley-like simmering romantic swing, Brown’s nicely jagged sense of rhythm complementing the masterly fretwork of Riepler whose sound sits snugly alongside the dexterity and ideas of Kurt Rosenwinkel. The standard ‘Gone With The Wind,’ when I hear this I think of Bill Evans, allowed Cohen to demonstrate her fine, expressive qualities on a ballad and that subtle side was reinforced later on the beautiful Strayhorn/Ellington standard ‘Isfahan’ the easy highlight of a set that also included versions of Charlie Parker’s ‘Dewey Square’ on which Brown showed his easy bop dexterity (his bebop bombs occasionally dropped during the set were Klook-perfect) and the cheesy ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ was almost an after thought the band could play in their sleep.
Riepler has been touring with the Electric Biddle a good deal in France with Julien Lourau and is fast gaining an international reputation and understandably so given his natural flair and the sheer jazz empathy he has at his fingertips and so happily for any audience he is playing to shares. SG
Hannes Riepler, top. Photo: Jeff Humbert