Saturday, June 22, 2013

Fussing about Wayne Shorter

Because I don't spend a lot of time on the Internet except for stuff I really need, I have managed to miss the entire F*** Wayne Shorter fuss from earlier this year. A young saxophonist named Alex Hoffman propagated a social media utterance with this title. Typically, the post blew up and made him infamous. 

The online jazz writer Jonah Jonathan gave Hoffman an hourlong soapbox on Jonathan's platform, the Jazz Musician's Voice, In the intervierw, Hoffman rambles in a constipated tone about his aesthetic values and how Shorter falls short of them. The blather is available on YouTube under the title, Alex Hoffman: Why I think Wayne Shorter Sucks. Hoffman objects to the fact that members of Shorter's quartet occasionally yell at high points in their performance, and that Shorter uses harmony that Hoffman finds offensive.

Other people, such as Larry Blumenfeld, quickly came to Shorter's defense, as if he needed any.

This conflict between convention and innovation is not new in jazz or any other realm of art. But, seriously, Shorter's iconic Blue Note sides are half a century old now. And why do we need to hear another version of Giant Steps, just because somebody mastered it? 

Sad to see that innovation in jazz must come from a guy who's celebrating his 80th birthday this year. There are others, of course: Darcy James Argue, for one.

Friday, June 21, 2013

So many grapes on the vines

I have never seen so many grapes on these vines. Is it the rain, or maybe the maturity of the vines?

Rain, obviously, but we've had early rain in recent years, but never so many grapes. So, I'm thinking of the vines maturing. In any case, I'll have to thin excess grapes to avoid stressing the vines. I hate doing that ...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Post-Wayne Shorter concert stroll in Chicago

After the Wayne Shorter concert
earlier this month, we walked along
Michigan Avenue and found giant
boxes of radiant color, along with
a separate tower showing a
close-cropped face that changes
expression. Apparently this installation
has been in existence for nearly a
decade in Millennium Park.
Well, it was new to us. We also
noticed other glowing structures
farther up the street.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Japanese beetles? Not yet

Japanese beetle. University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension.
On this day last year, I announced my first sighting of Japanese beetles. Today, no beetles are munching on my vines. Last year, I declared that I would pinch off the bugs rather than wrap the vines in garden netting to keep the bugs away. However, last year, I relented due to the numbers. If they do arrive this year, I will stand firm with the pinch-off approach. I have discovered, after several years of infestation, that the beetles munch the leaves but don't seem to harm the grapes. And when the bugs go away, the vines generate a modicum of new leaves.

If anyone sees them, please report here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Wayne Shorter at Chicago Symphony Center

As declared earlier, I made my pilgrimage to Chicago Symphony Center to hear Wayne Shorter and his quartet. It was not one of those concerts that stirs up a lot of frenzy and leaves you exhausted, and I was not expecting that. 

This music that he embarked on a decade ago with the quartet has  always confounded me, but not in a way that made me stop listening. So, the concert was something I just had to hear, hoping that somehow I would get it. However, the Mysterious Traveler sounded as inscrutable as ever. I didn't get it, but I got a questioning, pondering experience, strangely satisfying at the end.

On most of the half-dozen tunes, he sounded so terse, cryptic, that I wondered why he wouldn't have preferred silence. The first note he played was very brief and tentative, almost as if he were testing his instrument or warming up. He played that note again in the same fashion, signaling that it was actual music.

Thankfully, there were spots of thrilling swirls and cascades. It seemed like the point was to wait for these moments, not expect, as in most jazz, that one thing will build on the next into a profluent narrative. I'm probably making too much of his Buddhist faith, but the music often sounded more like meditation, with moments of insight. The best way to listen seemed to be to wait, just to wait — not to wait with anticipation.

But all of these abstract remarks only describe Wayne. There was an entire band playing expansive compositions.

Throughout the decade of the quartet and across its three albums, Danilo Perez displayed a strongly percussive and unpredictable style on piano. In this concert, he played more fluently, with complex streams of notes that sounded more like classical. However, he had a few flashpoints. On one piece halfway through the concert, he plucked the piano strings, creating a vibrating buildup of tension. Later, he erupted with spiky block chords, causing drummer Brian Blade to respond so powerfully that he almost fell off his stool.

Blade dropped percussion in bunches, sometimes seemingly trying to stoke Shorter, at others ratcheting down to a lower dynamic to enable Shorter's meandering. Bassist John Patitucci spent much of the time hunched over his bass, providing not just bass notes but a rumbling counterpoint to what Shorter was doing.

From time to time, Shorter turned to one or another musician and made little hand gestures like fidgeting or like third-base-coach signals. The recipient would respond with a nod, but the music did not necessarily change as if on cue. Shorter played in a slightly stooped posture, which, along with the cryptic passages, reminded me in sight and sound of the aging Miles Davis. Of course, Shorter has aged much more than Davis did, and the connection was there, but it stopped there. Can you name a jazz musician, or an artist of any kind, pushing so far into nether creative realms at nearly 80 years of age?

One of the more satisfying pieces was a dissonant number near the end that sounded like 20th century classical music, dirge and paint splatter. Then the band started churning with mounting bombast, launching Shorter into one of his best flights of the evening — whoosh!

Many of the pieces were very long, with long sections, each with a change in tempo or texture from the previous part. A different musician would come to the fore with each movement, but not in the way of a featured solo, as others also chimed in frequently. In these long pieces, it seemed that anything was possible.