WAYNE SHORTER Speak No Evil (Blue Note)

 

The lineup for this Christmas Eve 1964 session is remarkably similar to the contemporaneous Miles Davis quintet, with drummer Elvin Jones replacing Tony Williams and Freddie Hubbard subbing for its leader on trumpet. Perhaps that explains why “Speak No Evil” frequently – on “Witch Hunt”, for example – reminds me of Miles albums such as “Nefertiti”, maybe not of that record’s crazed, sometimes violent experimentation, but definitely its offhand, dragging melodies. Perhaps it’s what Don Heckman was alluding to in his sleevenotes when he talks of “floating harmonies” and “chords filled with tonality-disturbing ambiguities”.  The languid, pretty “Infant Eyes”, however, written for and about Shorter’s daughter, is somewhat more soothing, putting me in mind of the Bill Evans Trio’s wonderful “Detour Ahead”.  Although it might be gently ticking at the outer edges of the hard bop envelope, unfortunately “Speak No Evil” is another Blue Note album that fails to move me, or score an endorsement more enthusiastic than “pleasant”.

              

From the same “Treasures of Blue Note” LP + CD series as my copy of Joe Henderson’s similarly underwhelming “Page One”, it’s another slightly grimy and distorted sounding record that does nothing to enfold the listener in the music in the manner of the best Blue Note reissues.

 

WAYNE SHORTER Juju (Music Matters)

Having found to my disappointment that Shorter’s much-lauded third album, “Speak No Evil”, didn’t really speak to me, I’m delighted to report that his second, 1964’s “Juju”, positively yells. The opening title track runs on the same kind of Eastern tonality that John Coltrane explored on “My Favorite Things”, which, as that album is one of my favourite things, is hardly a demerit. Perhaps it’s not a surprise, then, to discover half of Coltrane’s quartet on the payroll here, including pianist McCoy Tyner and percussionist Elvin Jones, whose instantly recognisable locomotive yet filigree clatter is all over this record. In comparison, “Deluge” is almost bluesy, the group stomping with authority, and Tyner weaves an intricate cat’s cradle during his solo on “Yes Or No” , yet never at the expense of rhythm and melody. There are moments of gentle playfulness as well, such as “Twelve More Bars To Go”, Shorter’s evocation of a drunkard’s idiosyncratic path from hostelry to hostelry.

Music Matters’ presentation of this fine music is, as usual, a tactile and sensory delight. Housed in a thick, glossy gatefold lined with rare session photographs, it’s pressed on two heavy 45 rpm discs in a successful attempt to attain sonic nirvana.

WAYNE SHORTER Adam’s Apple (Blue Note) 

Originally released in 1966, this album might be finest solo Shorter I’ve heard so far, easily bettering “Speak No Evil” and maybe just nudging ahead of “Juju”. The opening title track is a perky canter, slightly reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man”, its rakish forward momentum giving the impression that it’s perpetually on the brink of toppling over. Wayne’s strident and raucous tenor saxophone tone lords it over the rest of the quartet, relinquishing control only briefly for Hancock’s piano solo, and you can hear them getting as creative as possible behind him. You couldn’t call a tune “502 Blues (Drinkin’ And Drivin’)” these days, but in these hands Jimmy Rowles’ composition is an evocation of tyres on wet tarmac and blurred neon. “El Gaucho”’s Latin lilt provides a line through its writhing melodic contortions, and “Footprints” is arguably Shorter’s signature tune, later recorded with Miles Davis for “Miles Smiles”. Here, as on “Chief Crazy Horse”, Herbie’s double-time solo seems to slide perpendicular to the melody. Considered, inventive music-making that doesn’t stray too far into avant-garde territory, “Adam’s Apple” is a very fine album.

A Scorpio pressing in its current vinyl incarnation, initial impressions of “Adam’s Apple” are not good, even by the generally lacklustre standards of that shadowy concern’s products. It arrives in a tacky approximation of the kind of protective plastic cover Simply Vinyl used to wrap around their sleeves, presumably to shore up a cardboard cover that’s the flimsiest I’ve encountered on anything other than reggae or Russian albums. Even the rear cover, normally authentic to the original on Scorpios, seems to have been derived from a later reissue – when did you ever see track times on the back of a Blue Note album? Nevertheless, I’m staggered to report that “Adam’s Apple” is one of those rare Scorpios (Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” being another, or perhaps the other) which sounds really good. Yes, Analogue Productions’ upcoming 45rpm reissue will no doubt eat this for breakfast sonically, but if and when it arrives on these shores it’ll be a 50 record, whereas this can be bought right now for 9.99 from HMV. As a yardstick, it sounds far superior to the few examples I’ve heard from the “Treasures Of Blue Note” series of LP and CD combos issued a couple of years ago, so, despite appearances, it’s something like a bargain.

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