Footprints: The Life and Music of Wayne Shorter
Who among veteran jazzmen has exhibited more stylistic breadth than saxophonist Wayne Shorter? Only Herbie Hancock comes to mind, and it's probably no coincidence that the two have maintained a musical kinship ever since they were members of Miles Davis' fabled '60s quintet. Hancock plays piano on several tracks on this two-disc retrospective of Shorter's expansive career. He's there on several Miles classics ("E.S.P.," "Footprints," "Nefertiti"); he's there on the gorgeously contemplative, Asian-tinged ballad "Aung San Suu Kyi," from the pair's 1997 duet album 1 + 1.
Footprints tracks Shorter's extraordinary career from the 1960s hard bop of "Lester Left Town," when he was the musical director and primary composer for Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, through his marvelous rebirth as an acoustic artist on Verve Records with 2001's "Masquelero (Live)." In between, there's some of his brilliant solo stuff on Blue Note (1964's "Speak No Evil" and "Infant Eyes," which show off his melodic prowess); his first foray into nascent fusion, on "Sanctuary," from Miles' hallmark Bitches Brew; and four tracks from his tenure with the Weather Report, the best band of the fusion era by miles (yes, in my view, even better than Miles his bad self).
The twofer also collects some out-of-the-way gems. The ear-opening surprise of the entire set is "Time of the Barracudas," a heavily orchestrated Gil Evans piece from '64, where Shorter's probing, muscular tenor really kicks the tune into a higher gear. Close behind is "In Walked Wayne," a beautifully arranged, insistently swinging '96 tune under the leadership of storied trombonist J.J. Johnson.
Shorter was also a favored soloist among ambitious singers and rock bands. Representing that aspect are "Ponta De Areia," his gorgeous 1974 collaboration with Brazilian titan Milton Nascimento; "The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines," a track from Joni Mitchell's Mingus album ('79); and Steely Dan's "Aja," which showcased his unforgettable tenor foray.
After the breakup of Weather Report in the mid '80s, Shorter embarked on a series of post-fusion discs that emphasized labyrinthine composition and dense small-group arrangements, downplaying his improvisational acumen. (With Weather Report, his playing became increasingly minimal.) The four tracks from this period (1985-1995) — "The Three Marias," "Mahogany Bird," "Joy Ryder" and "Children of the Night" — while not without their redeeming aspects, are the least satisfying of the set. They're here, of course, in the interest of a career retrospective, but from a pure quality standpoint, Footprints would have benefited from other songs.
This wouldn't have been a problem if the set had been expanded into a four-disc box set. Shorter certainly deserves it. With the cooperation of a variety of labels — Sony, Verve, Blue Note, MCA, Warners — you could argue that this was a lost opportunity. But absent a full-fledged box set, Footprints is a terrific overview of a giant of 20th century music.
1/2 —ERIC SNIDER
Osirus: The Official Mixtape
OL´ DIRTY BASTARD
Less than a month after troubled Wu-Tang Clan jester ODB's drug-related death, it was announced that his mother and manager had joined forces in order to keep Dirty's legacy alive via their own label and clothing line. This, the first posthumous release, appeared scarcely a month after the proclamation. The almost ghoulishly quick turnaround, and the credible notion that the best stuff ODB laid down before expiring is probably earmarked for a forthcoming Roc-A-Fella Records full-length, might be grounds for suspecting Osirus to be chock full of B-side-grade material, questionable remixes, half-finished ideas and general filler. And there is some of that, mostly on the second half of the 18-track disc. But thanks to Ol' Dirty's authentic eccentricity and penchant for favoring a raw good idea over a fully cooked radio single, most of Osirus is fresh and listenable, and some of it is even great — particularly when ODB's off-key, semi-sung vocal hooks are paired with funky, off-kilter ragtime piano loops, and when better-than-average gang choruses bounce along rough, idiosyncratic production, as on the Bowie-copping "Dirty Run," the Cappadonna-assisted "Stand Up," and "If Y'all Want War." Osiris isn't nearly as much unhinged fun as the classic Dirty release Nigga Please; the craziness is balanced here by a more mature, yet still completely natural, sense of cohesion. But, the airplay bid "Don't Stop Ma" and a handful of generic tracks aside, the two extremes compliment each other surprisingly well. The result doesn't completely show what the late MC might've been capable of, but it does afford a glimpse of a talent that went well beyond the nut-job novelty role that too often defined him.
1/2 —SCOTT HARRELL
The Secondman´s Middle Stand
A former member of Minutemen and fIREHOSE, co-conspirator with Sonic Youth on their Ciccone Youth project, alternative rock patron saint, and the man the Stooges turned to for a bass player when they reunited, Mike Watt is a symbol of the magical continuity of underground music past and present. The Secondman's Middle Stand is a lengthy concept album about his recent near-death illness. It's surprising to hear Watt stretch out this way: The CD has just nine tracks and sprawls over 53 minutes. It works, though. He sings and speaks about the physical fact of bodily recovery, the constant threat of pessimism in the face of illness, and the gratitude of the survivor. There are weak points: the opener, "Boilin' Blazes," resorts to the trappings of the rock opera and comes across as needlessly pretentious; other songs seem to hit their stride only to shift radically to further the story being told. But there are gems as well: "Puked to High Heaven" and "Pissbags and Tubing" revel in the disgusting side of the body and are charming in their honesty, while "Pluckin', Pedalin' and Paddlin'" is a relaxed, almost childish (in the best way possible), gaze into the promise of renewed life. The end of Watt's story is a happy one. In a time of mordant disconnection like ours, that can be quite moving.
—COOPER LANE BAKER