Wayne Shorter – Juju – Blue Note (1964) BST 84182/2014 B002089-01, remastered stereo vinyl, 56:12 ****:
(Wayne Shorter – tenor saxophone; McCoy Tyner – piano; Reginald Workman – double bass; Elvin Jones – drums)
Wayne Shorter has become one of the most accomplished musicians in modern jazz. As a member and significant composer for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the late 1950s, he rose in prominence. In the following decade a stint with the Miles Davis Second Great Quintet (replacing John Coltrane) provided a wider audience for his tenor saxophone and writing skill. At the same time, Shorter was recording with Blue Note as a band leader. With a cadre of jazz stars including Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner, the albums showcased his own compositions. This catalog was notable in its unique musical contexts, with pentatonic melodies, structured solos, long rests and complex harmonic explorations. From 1964-1970, Shorter released 11 albums on Blue Note.
Shorter continued to play and record with Miles Davis, alternating on tenor and soprano saxophone. As the fusion movement unfolded, he became an integral part. In the early seventies, Shorter and Davis sideman Joe Zawinul formed the seminal band, Weather Report. Shorter would be associated with this band over four decades. In addition he recorded solo albums including 1974’s Native Dancer. By then he had switched to soprano (primarily). As a sideman, he remained in demand recording with Joni Mitchell, Carlos Santana and a host of others. To date, Wayne Shorter has garnered ten Grammys.
As part of the Blue Note 75th anniversary celebration, Shorter’s 1964 album, Juju has been remastered to vinyl. This was his fifth project as band leader and his compositional prowess is on display. Six original songs convey a wide assortment of musical ideas with arrangements for quartet. Opening Side One is the title track. Behind a quasi-waltz intro, Shorter initiates an African-themed chant. He expands the melodic structure only to return to its core later. The “Coltrane” rhythm section (McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Elvin Jones) executes intricate patterns that complement the mystical ambiance of the tenor lines. McCoy Tyner utilizes his distinctive lyricism on his solo and combines with Workman and Jones effortlessly. The jazz modality might bring comparisons to Coltrane but Shorter’s restraint manages to set it apart. “Deluge” also touches on spirituality as the piece morphs into medium-swing. Tyner’s jaunty, muscular solo is matched by Shorter’s nuanced play. On “House Of Jade” there is a Far-Eastern undercurrent and this ballad transitions to a medium-swing tempo. Workman’s doublebass is deft and Shorter adds soulful, fluid riffs.
Side Two is equally compelling. Jones shines on the cymbal/drum introduction to “Mahjong”. The complex assortment of four bar sections is intertwined in an exciting melodic journey. The group shifts from straight-ahead jazz to swing with agility. Shorter is dialed in, and combines flow and improvisation. His inventiveness is compelling, and each cut employs an inimitable dynamic. The ensemble flexes their hard-bop prominence on the up tempo “Yes Or No”. Shorter plays with fury and during rests, the piano trio is superlative. Drawing on bluesy jazz, “Twelve More Bars To Go” exudes a festive vibe with loping, wistful vamps. Shorter’s phrasing and individual accents are impeccable and fresh.
The remastered vinyl recreates the warm, sparse Rudy Van Gelder acoustics. It is not as vibrant as true hi-resolution digital formats, but allows the music to surge with much of the intended musical aesthetics. The Nate Hentoff liner notes are a blast. Best of all, vinyl jazz enthusiasts (and beginner devotees) can purchase a bona fide jazz album for under $20.
Side 1: Juju; Deluge; House Of Jade
Side 2: Mahjong; Yes Or No; Twelve More Bars To Go