Friday, March 10, 2023

RIP Wayne Shorter


My favorite Wayne Shorter piece is this eerie, poignant track that ends Side 1 of Mr. Gone (otherwise a rather florid and exuberant attempt by Weather Report to hitch a ride on disco - and highly enjoyable on those terms, particularly "River People"). "The Elders" is a completely different vibe - I don't know what was on Mr. Shorter's mind when he wrote it, but the title suggests an ancient, impossibly wise race on some alien planet. (I've just been reading H.P. Lovecraft for the first time so I'm half-wondering if that's an influence, although the Old Ones is his formulation - and the ancients in Shorter's piece seem altogether more kindly). His bandmates contribute to the eldritch vibe wonderfully, particularly Zawinul, who arranged, and Jaco, with that damped-strings, percussively played bass-as-rhythm-guitar pulse.  

I first heard this when I'd moved from Oxford to London in the autumn of 1985 and my friends Amanda and Mark kindly put me up for a month or two in their West Dulwich flat, while I searched for a place to live long term, sorted out dole and housing benefit, and waited for a music paper to call me back with offers of work. A cassette of Mr. Gone was in Mark's collection and provided my first taste of Weather Report. I associate "The Elders" with that tentative time: moving to the big city, grey November days, and an empty flat (my friends would be at work during the day) with just their delightful cat and Mr. Gone for company.  

Of course, Shorter is all over this next record, which might just be my favorite album of all time (it certainly jostles  strongly with the other contenders) and would definitely be a disc to take to the proverbial desert island - for its inexhaustibility, and for the  way its peculiar combination of tension and serenity would provide both stimulation and solace in my isolation.

I know I was an awed Miles fan by 1987, but I can't actually remember if I heard In A Silent Way after Mr. Gone... if so, that would've been an odd entry point into the Shorter soundworld (especially as he was largely absent during Mr. Gone's making - the title came from Zawinul's nickname for Shorter during those sessions).  

But certainly after that I started picking up Weather Report albums in the Record and Tape Exchange, as it was still called then. Memory is fuzzy, but there might have been one or two I taped from the West Norwood library, which was surprisingly hip. 


Now I know that Joni worked with Jaco, but I hadn't realised until now that she also called on Shorter  for Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (as well as two of Weather Report's percussionsists). I guess at that point she really did want to make fusion, but with songs and lyrics. 

Dearie dearie me - I wonder what Mr. Shorter thought of the album cover...