Sunday, September 18, 2005

Well Worth the Trip

Some would say that my three friends and I were crazy for driving to San Antonio and back in the same day just to see a 90-minute jazz concert. But when the concert in question was the Wayne Shorter Quartet, and this was their closest gig to Dallas for the foreseeable future, I say it was totally worth it.

The Quartet (consisting of Shorter on tenor and soprano saxes, Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums) has been around since the summer of 2001, when the sessions that became the Footprints Live CD were recorded. I was fortunate enough to catch them in the summer of '02 at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, and the group, which was amazing then, has become even more solid in the intervening time. Each member is a master of his instrument, but they combine to form something truly special.

If this were a traditional concert review, I'd recount the list of tunes the group played, but this was no traditional concert. In fact, I can't even tell you with any great certainty how many tunes they played, though the correct answer would probably be "three or four." The Quartet doesn't stick to the traditional head-solos-head format; even their re-creations of recognizable tunes (usually ones penned by Shorter, but sometimes adapted from classical themes) sometimes required a bit of searching to discern where the head was. We estimated the first tune to be about 45 minutes long, using the time between appearances of a head-like motif as a measurement. Unusual? Sure. But it didn't matter one iota.

What was truly amazing about this group was their ability to change styles and feels on a dime. There were plenty of things that seemed completely improvised, along with many other elements that were obivously planned, and everything was woven together in seamless fashion. Besides Shorter himself, the bulk of the solo space went to Perez, though everyone got a chance to provide little interludes between the leader's excursions. Perez often provided more of the rhythmic accompainment than Blade did, drawing from a wide variety of influences. Patitucci was rock-solid, going back and forth in between matching up with Perez's left hand and punctuating Blade's rhythmic accents. Blade himself provided everything from solid rhythmic underpinnings to jaw-dropping technical flourishes. The leader was a master of saying a lot with a little (a technique gleaned, no doubt, from his onetime mentor Miles Davis, along with letting the music do the talking, as not a word was spoken onstage all night), though he also had plenty of extended technical runs. He alternated between tenor and soprano with a very individual sound (in certain registers, it might have been difficult to discern which horn he was playing if one's eyes were closed). Shorter looks rather serious onstage more often than not, but he exhibited some playful moments as well--giving a bemused look to his soprano when the tuning was a bit off on the first tune, leaning into the microphone and whistling some background lines during a Perez solo, and even emitting a slight chuckle when the pianist launched into a brief quote of "I'll Remember April."

In the three years since I'd last seen them, the Quartet has really grown, and the experience was all the more engaging since we were extremely close to the stage. They've recently put out a new recording, Beyond the Sound Barrier, that is now at the top of my must-buy list. If you're in Texas and missed this one, try to catch them in Houston on October 14 at the Wortham Center, because this show was worth every minute and every mile of the trip.

On the road: The trip itself went off without a hitch; we got to borrow a larger vehicle from one of the guys' parents, so four of us weren't crammed into Kevmobile 1.2 for five hours each way. Save for a wreck on 35E in Red Oak on the way down, traffic wasn't an issue, so there was plenty of time for dinner on the way. We got into San Antonio with over an hour to spare before Shorter's downbeat, there were parking places in the first nearby garage we entered, and we snagged the last front-row space in the non-VIP section when we arrived. Sure, we had to endure the last thirty minutes of the generic fusion band that served as the opening act (I suppose they were trying to offer a little something for everyone), but our location was superb. The weather was great--perhaps a little warm at first, but it cooled down nicely by the end, with cool breezes blowing through from time to time. Because we got such good seats, we missed out on a walk through Travis Park and a chance to sample the food (the theme of which was Cajun/Creole, which I'm sure was enhanced by the arrival of Hurricane Katrina evacuees), but maybe there'll be a return trip to the Jazz'SAlive festival in our future.

Fueled by coffee, conversation and tunes, I ended up being energetic enough to do all the driving on the way back, and I don't think I've laughed so hard on a roadtrip in recent memory. Some may have thought we were crazy to do this when we had to come back the same night, but I think it turned out perfectly.

Get ready for tomARRRow: Don't forget that tomorrow is Talk Like a Pirate Day; this year, they even have some special events that are raising money for hurricane relief.

UPDATE: J-Guar gets Quote of the Day honors tonight; I told him on AIM (using the typical all-lower-case-letters format) that "the shorter concert was most excellent" and his reply was "even better than the longer one?"

IN THE COMMENTS: Regular contributor Gary P. recounts his first brush with the G-weasel's mangling of a Louis Armstrong classic. I've still managed to avoid more than a snippet of it this whole time myself.

3 comments:

Jazzy G said...

ARRR MATEY!!! 8D

Eric Grubbs said...

I can relate: Back in 2002, my friends and I drove down to Austin to see Belle & Sebastian. The deal with them is that they NEVER play Dallas, so when this Austin show came up, we had to go. We drove down to Austin that afternoon, enjoyed the hell out of the concert and got back to Fort Worth at 3am. Well worth the trip.

Gary P. said...

Now for a story totally unrelated to this post, but relevant to this blog nevertheless....

I'm writing today from sunny Irvine, CA. Light Pacific breeze out of the west.... temperature is about 75 degrees. You'd think this place was just about perfect.

While I was driving around town in the crappy rental car (Ford Focus), I found a radio station that had a trombone solo going on. I was looking for KLON-FM jazz out of Long Beach, but couldn't remember their frequency. This wasn't KLON though. Even when a station promo identified this as a "smooth jazz" station, I didn't reach for the dial figuring "Eh, what's the worst that could happen?"

Shortly thereafter, an event occurred that will forever change not only the way I approach music but perhaps even the way I approach life itself.

This song aired.

It was my first time to hear it.

While you might think my reaction would have been to break the dashboard reaching to quickly to change the station, I was curiously transfixed by the juxtaposition of one of the most well-known musical ambassadors of all time and his special guest, the Father of Jazz himself Louis Armstrong..... probably for the same reasons we've all see at least one of the Faces of Death movies.

What a Wonderful World is a song that can almost bring tears to my eyes when I hear Armstrong's version. I wish I had the jazz chops and lead chops it took to play the arrangement of it that Mike Vax did with the TI Band at the CCCC Jazz Fest a few years back. I'd play it at every Frisco Jazz Band concert I did. After hearing the G Weasel on it, I felt like a needed to take a shower to wash that icky feeling down the drain.