With studious and radical reworking of pieces, legendary Wayne Shorter creates joy and imagination on his new album, "Alegria." This is his first studio album as a leader in eight years and features some of the brightest performers in jazz today: Danilo Perez, Brad Meldau, John Patitucci, Brian Blade, Alex Acuna and Terri Lyne Carrington. This is a worthy follow-up to the widely acclaimed "Footprints Live!" from 2002. Each of the pieces is intelligently arranged and performed flawlessly.
The only new Shorter composition is the initial track, ‘Sacajawea.’ It is a rousing burner with aural flights of fancy. It can be delicate and supremely rough, graceful and wild. Shorter and his band are utterly in control especially when the piece feels like it whips around a sharp turn at a dangerously high speed and still manages to keep the whole thing on track.
Shorter rediscovers the brilliant classical Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, who re-thinks and re-imagines Bach. The result is simply a masterpiece. It is begins hauntingly with Acuna and Shorter but then sways along the dance floor to Charles Curtis on cello with a solo that is so sweet and sorrowful that it can bring tears to one’s eyes. Following the cello, Shorter begins a rich tenor improvisation in counterpoint to Curtis. The eventual interplay between Curtis and Shorter is breathtaking. This single track may be the most magnificent piece that I have heard in years. The roots are deep and old, but the branches are fresh and resoundingly modern. And it may provide listeners with a means to appreciate and intensively explore 20th century classical compositions by Bartok, Chavez, Shostakovich and Harrison.
‘Angola’ is a re-imagined bebop piece that was originally recorded when Shorter played with Miles Davis’ acoustic band. But this time, there is the brilliant incessant undertow of African rhythms and a slightly askew horn section. Shorter’s solos are concise and, at times, soaring.
‘12th Century Carol’ only casually uses the ancient melody initially which is then re-interpreted by Shorter on soprano. Perez, Carrington and Acuna are especially noteworthy on this piece. It is fierce and fearless piece of music. The Celtic folk song, ‘She Moves Through the Fair,’ is another re-imagining seen through a different lens of history and culture and pulled off convincingly and compellingly.
"Alegria" weaves together many sources of music and uses them to almost symphonic effect. It is an album that requires repeated listening to appreciate its nuances and magisterial execution, both in terms of its insightful interpretations and its joyful improvisations.