SNJO and Branford Marsalis Play Wayne Shorter. Edinburgh, September 2013.

Back in September, Branford Marsalis joined SNJO to play the music of Wayne Shorter. It was a fascinating gig – it made me listen to Shorter’s music in a different way.

I have seen Shorter play many times, but I have been growing away from his music. The last time I saw him play with his quartet, maybe ten years ago, I left before the concert’s end: the music seemed so abstract that it didn’t say anything to me; it was as if it was always just about to get going, without actually making it. (I must say that I was in a very small minority: the rest of the audience clearly thought it was a superb gig, and it was very well reviewed.)

But I love the Shorter’s earlier music – such as the classic Blue Note albums from the early 1960s; and I love Marsalis’ playing too. And I was very curious to the how SNJO – or, more precisely, their arrangers – would approach tunes written for much smaller ensembles.

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Firstly, I was in luck: the bulk of the tunes which made up this concert stemmed from a short period in the early and mid-1960s – Shorter’s Blue Note recordings plus his time with Miles Davis and Art Blakey.

Secondly, the arrangements were excellent. This wasn’t a surprise – the SNJO commissions great musicians around the world to arrange for them, and they regularly use the same arrangers who know what works for the band.

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But thirdly… My favourite tune from the evening was the only tune that fell outside the 1960s, Geoff Keezer’s arrangement of “Virgo Rising”. I thought this was really beautiful. It might be because my familiarity with the older material meant that I thought I knew how the tunes should sound, and hearing them played differently was disorienting.

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The band did their usual great job with complex arrangements, and Branford was superlative: his empathy with the music was evident. He and Tommy Smith did some sax-jousting.

There is a lot of pleasure in hearing a full-on jazz orchestra playing music one loves: and this was very pleasurable indeed.

(Here are the SNJO’s programme notes.)

Wayne Shorter c1990
Wayne Shorter, London c 1988.

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