Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wayne Shorter - 1969 [1988] "Super Nova"

Super Nova is the twelfth album by Wayne Shorter, recorded in 1969 and released on the Blue Note label. The album features five originals by Shorter and an arrangement of "Dindi" by Antônio Carlos Jobim. "Water Babies", "Capricorn" and "Sweet Pea" were originally recorded in a more traditional jazz setting in 1967 during the sessions with the Second Miles Davis Quintet that would be released in 1976 on the album Water Babies.

Chick Corea appears on drums rather than his typical role as a keyboardist.

Recorded just 8 days after the Bitches Brew session, many of the same artists from Bitches Brew appear here: saxophonist Wayne Shorter, guitarist John McLaughlin, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and pianist Chick Corea (playing drums and vibes on this!). Other Miles Davis alums appear: Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira and acoustic bass player Miroslav Vitous (both later would become members of Wayne Shorter's Weather Report). The band plays new versions of 3 Shorter tracks previously recorded with Miles Davis (but not released until Water Babies in 1976). They are performed much better in this context. Though this is post-bop (stretching into free jazz)... it's far more melodic than the dark moody Bitches Brew. Highly recommended.

Super Nova is an important transitional album for tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Doubling on soprano (which he had recently begun playing), Shorter interprets five of his originals (including "Water Babies," which had been recorded previously by Miles Davis) and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Dindi." He definitely used a forward-looking group of sidemen, because his "backup band" includes guitarists John McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock, Walter Booker (normally a bassist) on classical guitar for "Dindi," bassist Miroslav Vitous, both Jack DeJohnette and Chick Corea (!) on drums, and percussionist Airto; Maria Booker takes a vocal on the touching version of "Dindi." The influence of Miles Davis' early fusion period is felt throughout the music, but there is nothing derivative about the often-surprising results. As with Wayne Shorter's best albums, this set rewards repeated listenings.

It was the summer of 1969, flower power was in the air, conventional hard bop was in serious trouble, and Wayne Shorter wrought the hipfest Super Nova in the company of a gaggle of guitarists and percussionists. Super Nova , while typical in many ways of jazz in 1969, is by no means the average Blue Note session or the average Wayne Shorter album, but it has its charms.
He had the help of a stellar lineup. Shorter’s soprano (he plays no tenor on this album) was complemented by guitarists John McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock, who were joined by Walter Booker on one track; Miroslav Vitous on bass; Jack DeJohnette on drums and African thumb piano; Chick Corea, of all people, on drums and vibes (no piano); Airto Moreira on additional percussion; and Maria Booker singing on one track. An unusual lineup today, but not too head-turning alongside the likes of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew or Pharoah Sanders’ Karma , which have more in common than is usually acknowledged, and were the sort of thing that turned heads back then.

"Super Nova" kicks off our love-in with a repeating motive from Shorter, who follows his figure down various paths and returns repeatedly to home base with an oboe-like Coltraneish tone, while behind him his guitarists and drummers bubble and churn. McLaughlin squeezes out an undistinguished solo (with Sharrock thrashing behind him), and then it’s back to Wayne, sounding more like Trane every second. "Swee-Pea" is oddly titled, for the title reminds me of the Popeye’s baby, but the track is the occasion of some beautifully touching playing from Shorter. Romantic and elegiac by turns, he is at his most affecting here. Miles bandmates Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams would have backed this one up capably, but the percussion and guitars create a shimmering backdrop that works quite well. "Dindi" takes us to a hooting, groaning rain forest, which is suddenly broken by, lo and behold, Maria Booker singing a soft Portuguese ballad a la Astrud Gilberto. Playing Joao to Maria’s Astrud is Walter Booker on classical guitar. Then it’s back to the rain forest. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the structure of this song, except that bossa nova was popular in 1969, and Maria’s part is nice. Shorter plays outstandingly all through this album, but especially on "Water Babies," where he is the only soloist. The sidemen get restless on "Capricorn," especially the drum corps, and Shorter’s soprano grows more sonorous to match them. His soprano preaches, brays, and warns; the drums churn and the guitars quiver, but never get solo time to speak of. Wayne is always at the center on this album. Not to take anything away from Wayne: he can pull it off, and does.

In August of 1969 the Great Sorcerer Miles called together many acolytes to form the legendary electro-psychedelic-groove-jazz orchestra which unleashed "Bitches Brew" unto the world.

The following week, four of those acolytes (Shorter, Corea, McLaughlin & DeJohnette) reconvened across town with Sonny Sharrock and others in tow to continue questing, the Holy Fire still burning brightly in their souls. Meanwhile in the outside world, men were walking on the moon and the hippie tribes were gathering at Woodstock -- kozmik times indeed!

Hence Wayne Shorter's "Super Nova" album was literally the first* fruit borne by the Bitches revBrewlution which really did knock jazz on it's ass for most of the next decade. Though this album is far from a mini-"Brew", for starters because Blue Note's approach to recording was far different than the extravagances Miles was laying down over at Columbia. "Super Nova" and everything else on Blue Note in those days was cut live in the studio to two-track tape, and (perhaps with a little editing) that was pretty much it as far as "production" goes (in contrast, the extended pieces on "Bitches Brew" were multitracked & edited together from day-long jam sessions.)

"Super Nova" is also distinctive in that several of the musicians are not even playing their usual instruments! Starting with Wayne Shorter playing soprano instead of his usual tenor (the higher pitched soprano is often used for more "exotic eastern" sounds, exhibit A: Coltrane's raga-delic version of "My Favorite Things.") Also keyboardist Chick Corea plays percussion, bassist Walter Booker makes a guest appearance on classical guitar, and Booker's wife sings (her only appearance on record as she was not a professional musician.) Furthermore, the rather strange seven-piece lineup doesn't fit any usual mold in jazz or rock: a front line of only one horn accompanied by two electric guitars, a bass and three percussionists (no keyboards.)

The combination of all of these factors results in one uniquely organic, wooly & free-kadelic jazz record. Although this is technically a "fusion" record, it's important to note that it is not the "funk/jazz" fusion usually associated with the term, but rather a "psychedelic/jazz" fusion. There is not really any discernible hint of "rocknroll" nor any electronics (aside from the guitar amps, which aren't used for feedback or anything exotic like that.) Yet the record feels more akin to the galactic explorations of contemporary "rock groups" like Pink Floyd or the Grateful Dead than to anything else coming out on jazz labels like Blue Note in 1969.

Recorded August 29 (1, 2, 4 & 5) and September 2 (3 & 6), 1969.

Track listing:
All compositions by Wayne Shorter except where noted.

"Supernova" – 4:52
"Swee-Pea" – 4:36
"Dindi" (Antônio Carlos Jobim) – 9:35
"Water Babies" – 4:53
"Capricorn" – 7:47
"More Than Human" – 6:12


Wayne Shorter – soprano saxophone
John McLaughlin – acoustic and electric guitar (1, 2, 4, 5)
Sonny Sharrock – electric guitar
Chick Corea – drums, vibes
Miroslav Vitouš – bass
Jack DeJohnette – drums, kalimba
Airto Moreira – percussion
Walter Booker – acoustic guitar (3)
Maria Booker – vocals (3)
Niels Jakobsen – claves