Live at Montreux 1996
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Reviewed by Michael Fortes
hen Wayne Shorter formed Weather Report with fellow Miles Davis alumnus Joe Zawinul in 1971, one of the most celebrated composers and saxophonists in jazz started using even more of the silence of which his former boss was such a fan. In fact, by 1978’s Mr. Gone, many of Shorter’s fans wondered whether that album’s title was a reference to Shorter himself, as Zawinul clearly had the upper hand. However, in the 10 years following Weather Report’s demise, Shorter started letting loose again, composing entire solo albums as he did during his 1960s peak, albeit while mining much of the same sonic territory as Weather Report.
“Live at Montreux 1996” captures Shorter at the tail end of his fusion phase, leading a band that includes keyboardist Jim Beard, guitarist David Gilmore (no, not the Pink Floyd guy), drummer Rodney Holmes, and pre-Jaco Weather Report bassist Alphonso Johnson. Sticking only to post-Weather Report material, the set plays like a time capsule of ‘80s fusion – just above the era’s “smooth jazz” sins – while stuck in the middle of the ‘90s. Three tunes from 1995’s High Life (“On the Milky Way Express,” “At the Fair” and “Children of the Night”) anchor the set, rounded out by one each off of 1985’s Atlantis and 1988’s Joy Rider (“Endangered Species” and “Over Shadow Hill Way,” respectively). As expected, the live treatment breathes much needed life, and even a little swing, into these otherwise excellent fusion pieces, which suffered in their studio recordings from a feeling of stiffness typical of the era.
Though the main set gets top billing, the bonus material actually upstages it. In particular, the two performances from 1992 by the “Miles Davis tribute band” – Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and then-rising trumpet star Wallace Roney – found Shorter and company revisiting a couple of tunes originally recorded by Davis’ classic quintet in the mid 1960s and treating them both with reverence and with imagination. “Pinocchio” and “Pee Wee” were Shorter compositions that Davis, who died in ’91, never brought to the bandstand himself, leaving them ripe for reinterpretation.
The two bonus performances from 1991 (a radical remake of Shorter’s classic “Footprints” and a pre-High Life airing of “On the Milky Way Express”) split the difference between the full-on electric main set and the 1992 acoustic performances, as the band – led by Herbie Hancock and featuring Stanley Clarke on bass and another ex-Weather Report alumnus in drummer Omar Hakim – begins acoustically at the start of “Footprints,” only to switch gears after seriously bending the tune’s melody.
Basically, there’s very little “bad” Wayne Shorter music out there. Even his cheesiest ‘80s recordings have redeeming value. But the bottom line here is that, aside from the 1992 Miles Davis tribute band bonus performances, much of this collection is strictly for die-hards. And with more than an hour and a half of footage from one of the world’s premier jazz festivals, the diehards are clearly the winners.