The concert pairing of the Wayne Shorter Quartet and the Los Angeles Philharmonic was an inspired match, amounting to a summit between two of the leading ensembles in their respective musical fields. Shorter is one of the most accomplished saxophonists in history, and his current quartet (rounded out by drummer Brian Blade, bassist John Patitucci, and pianist Danilo Perez) has established itself as one of this century's leading jazz units. The Philharmonic is another longstanding musical force that, with the opening of Disney Hall in 2003, has seen its profile raised yet higher. Shorter has been increasingly interested in orchestral music in the last few years. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, for its part, has a tradition of working with artists outside the classical mainstream; Zubin Mehta's Philharmonic used to perform with the Mothers of Invention long before Frank Zappa was established as a composer of 'serious' music, and the orchestra has recently performed with Dianne Reeves. So, in a way, this meeting seemed almost inevitable.
Wayne Shorter is considered by many to be the greatest living composer in jazz; with his quartet being joined by the Philharmonic under the direction of Alexander Mickelthwate, that proposition was put to the test in an exciting way. The first number performed by the joined groups was Shorter's "Angola," and it found the Shorter Quartet a little ahead of the orchestra. The jazz band displayed its customary brilliance, playing with the ease and musical empathy that has become its calling card. Brian Blade was particularly fun to watch, playing with an infectious joy that recalled the late Billy Higgins. The Philharmonic, on the other hand, seemed a bit stiff at the concert's start. They played competently, but didn't quite mesh with Shorter & Co.; they appeared to have some stylistic ground to make up.
Fortunately, the Philharmonic proved able to do just that as the night wore on. The next piece, "Orbits," was much more successful overall, featuring some very nice work from the orchestra and having something of a livelier arrangement for them to work with. The strings were particularly enjoyable on this one, conveying an appropriately cosmic sound. The first half was continued with the wide-open dynamics of "Over Shadow Hill Way," and was completed by Shorter's arrangement of "Vendiendo Alegria," a piece that really played well to the combined talents of all involved.
The second half of the performance opened with a rendition of Carlos Santana's "Novus" that was nothing short of spectacular. The strings were breathtaking, and Shorter did some of his most soulful soloing of the evening on this one. "Joy Ryder" followed, taking the music back into wilder territory. The final selections were "Midnight in Carlotta's Hair" and a brawny reading of "Prometheus Unbound." The Quartet and conductor Mickelthwate left to rousing applause.
The Quartet came back to play an encore, this time unaccompanied by the Philharmonic. The group's interplay remained seamless, impressing both the audience and the still-seated orchestra. The latter may appear staid in their tuxedos, but some of them were getting into it, particularly one of Shorter's brethren in the reed section who kept nodding his head in time to the music.
When the worlds of classical music and jazz intersect, the results are not a given. Sometimes things work out brilliantly, other times not so much. Fortunately, the collaboration between The Wayne Shorter Quartet and the Los Angeles Philharmonic ended up being one of the successful ones. In case anyone had any doubts.