Those old jazz buffs who expected saxophonist Wayne Shorter to return to his old be-bop and modal styles of the '60s were probably disappointed by his show at Blues Alley last night. Instead of going backward, Shorter moved forward: He extended his jazz-rock work with Weather Report into new compositions that proved less atmospheric but more dramatic, less elaborate and yet more harmonic.
Focusing primarily on numbers from his new "Atlantis" album, Shorter gave a brief explanatory rap for each one and then stated an appealing melodic theme, which he varied over and over until the whole quartet reached a feverish climax of driving rhythms and saxophone shouts. As Shorter put it, "The record was just the beginning of the movie, and this is the rest of it."
Typical was "On the Eve of Departure," which, as Shorter explained, referred to the women leaving Atlantis just before it sank. The tune began with a melancholy soprano sax figure, but when the composer switched to tenor sax, the funky rhythm pattern intensified and the saxophonist reworked the main theme into a cathartic expression of urgency, rage and frustration. The evening's highlight, though, was "Endangered Species," which climaxed in a spectacular soprano sax solo that sustained melodic screams over a rumbling rhythm for bar after bar.
The show was hampered by Tom Canning's uninspired synthesizer cliche's, but bassist Gary Willis managed to sound solidly funky and inventively melodic at the same time. The Wayne Shorter Quartet remains at Blues Alley through Sunday.