Sunday, June 3, 2018

Wayne Shorter - 1965 [1990] "The Soothsayer"

The Soothsayer is the seventh album by Wayne Shorter, recorded in 1965, but not released on Blue Note until 1979. The album features five originals by Shorter and an arrangement of Jean Sibelius' "Valse Triste". An additional take of "Angola" was added to later CD releases.

Part of an explosion of solo albums Wayne Shorter recorded just after he joined Miles Davis' band, The Soothsayer wasn't released until the late '70s. Listening to the album, it is hard to believe because it ranks with the best of his works from this incredibly fertile period. Shorter has been called Davis' "idea man," and the creativity and thoughtfulness that earned him that moniker are quite evident here. The album's five originals and one arrangement (of Sibelius' Valse Triste) show a multi-layered complexity that seems effortless even as it weaves together contributions from a very strong, stylistic sextet. Of particular interest is the interplay of the three horn players, including altoist James Spaulding and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. As a performer, Shorter also shows a lot of strength, with fluid, at times subtly evocative, solos that bloom with energy without ever seeming frantic or harsh. The title track shows Shorter at his most forceful and is one of the most passionate moments on the album, but even here, beauty seems to come first, while his low-key standard "Lady Day" embodies grace and calmness in every moment.

The Soothsayer may be comparably less of a benchmark in Wayne Shorter's discography, and remains to some extent overshadowed by its close contemporary Speak No Evil (Blue Note, 1964), but it's a solid and enduring album—despite 15 years between the recording session and the original LP release.

Things were happening big time for Shorter in early 1965, when The Soothsayer was recorded. After five years with drummer and band leader Art Blakey as musician, composer and, finally, musical director, the saxophonist had recently joined trumpeter Miles Davis' second great quintet. With Davis, Shorter would record six studio albums over the next three years—the first, E.S.P. (Columbia, 1965) was recorded two months before The Soothsayer—plus a further four under his own name.

There was an embarrassment of Shorter riches around, and The Soothsayer was initially shelved to make way for the release of the more structurally adventurous The All Seeing Eye (Blue Note, 1965). When Shorter left Davis and joined Weather Report, The Soothsayer, temporarily, was overtaken by events. It was finally released in 1980.

The album finds Shorter in the company of two Davis quintet colleagues—bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams—together with pianist McCoy Tyner, then a member of saxophonist John Coltrane's classic quartet, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and the relatively unsung alto saxophonist James Spaulding. Hubbard and Carter had been retained from Speak No Evil; Tyner had been featured on the earlier Shorter albums Night Dreamer (Blue Note, 1964) and Ju Ju (Blue Note, 1964). Spaulding and Williams were new recruits.

Shorter's virile playing aside, the album is worthwhile for the presence of drum prodigy Williams (Shorter's regular drummers of the time were Elvin Jones and Joe Chambers)—who turns in an inventive solo on "Angola"—and for the strength of Shorter's writing. The triple meter, medium groove "Lost," the opener, is quintessential Shorter of the period. Eight years before the release of The Soothsayer it was featured on Weather Report's Live In Tokyo (Columbia, 1972). "Angola," which follows, sounds like it could have been written earlier, for Blakey's band. The haunting "Lady Day" is a ballad tribute to singer Billie Holiday.

Of interest too is Shorter's re-arrangement of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius' pretty "Valse Triste"—on Speak No Evil, Shorter had credited Sibelius as a key inspiration for that album's "Dance Cadaverous." The word "deconstruction" may not have been common jazz parlance in 1965, but deconstruct is exactly what Shorter does here, sensitively and engagingly.

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Track listing:

All compositions by Wayne Shorter except where noted.

1. "Lost" – 7:20
2. "Angola" – 4:56
3. "The Big Push" – 8:23
4. "The Soothsayer" – 9:40
5. "Lady Day" – 5:36
6. "Valse Triste" (Jean Sibelius) – 7:45
7. "Angola" [Alternate Take] – 6:41

Personnel:

Wayne Shorter – tenor saxophone
Freddie Hubbard – trumpet
James Spaulding – alto saxophone
McCoy Tyner – piano
Ron Carter – bass
Tony Williams – drums

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