Wayne Shorter QuartetPhoto – Kevin Peterson

Eighty-three year old American saxophonist Wayne Shorter – with over half a century of interstellar composition and performance behind him and ten Grammies including a lifetime achievement award, the guest of the US Consulate General in Melbourne – sat intently at the centre of his quartet like a jazz Buddha before a packed Hamer Hall for the closing night of the Melbourne 2016 International Jazz Festival. And the audience was there to venerate.

Surrounded by three of the jazz world’s greats: pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and Brian Blade on drums, Shorter waited as the interplay between these incredible musicians created a sonic launch pad before he joined in with his cool, angular saxophone – a musical ghosting arising through the mist, rich in colour, yelps, squeals and abrupt endings.

The quartet possesses a magnetic, compressed intensity; wrapping the huge auditorium of Hamer Hall in the vibe of an intimate nightclub. Shorter’s musical meditations are at once subdued yet visionary, surprising, flowing in a way that demands metaphors to do with untapped, undammed bodies of water moving under seasons and moontides. The band works like a team of painters, each contributing unique creative skills to a master plan. The effect is meditative and quietly transporting, with moments of drama and crescendo. The sum is greater than the parts here; each musician intensifies his musical communion guided by Shorter, their enigmatic musical high priest. Perez’s orchestral approach to his classical piano style travels through Patitucci’s surging melodic bass lines, reaching Blade’s insistent rhythms creating complex cinematic layers penetrated by Shorter’s saxophonic utterances.

The concert peaks with Prometheus Unbound inspired by Mary Shelley; in his one chat to the audience during the concert, Shorter credited Frankenstein’s author for her creation of the modern Prometheus. If this score is a monster (perhaps for lesser mortals to perform), it’s a benign one with a sublime complexity, here rendered in loving conversation by its performers.

Shorter’s compositions and playing can be thought of as a musical allegory to the Heart Sutra’s mystery of ‘form is emptiness and emptiness is form,’ with the musical notes providing form and their spaces creating emptiness. (So tempted to use the word ‘interstitial’ here.) The exhilarated audience was on its feet as the band bowed, rewarded for unending applause by a short closing encore which inspired a second standing ovation. What can you say, really?

2016 Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Wayne Shorter Quartet

Venue: Hamer Hall | Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Southbank VIC
Date: 12 June 2016
Tickets: $149 – $89
Bookings: www.melbournejazz.com

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