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.
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.
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.
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.)