The traveller.

News item: Saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter is dead at 89.

I’ve never written about it much, mainly because my ability to bring instrumental music to life through words is sorely lacking …

… but the run of Weather Report albums between 1973’s Sweetnighter and 1976’s Black Market are held in particular fondness within the four walls of my head. They are records I can listen to at just about any time, in just about any frame of mind.

(The other Weather Report albums of the Seventies also have things to say for themselves, if not quite as much. Their Eighties stuff, at least what I’ve heard, topples over into the bland-and-shiny world of cable-TV bumper music. I should not have been surprised that an album titled Night Passage made me yawn … but I guess I still expected something a little more gripping.)

As a result of this fandom, I’ve also come into possession of live recordings from this period that shine just about as brightly. I don’t take them out as often as the studio albums, but I don’t regret it when I do, as the various ensemble players did the cerebral-exploration thing and the flat-out-smoke thing with equal skill and fervor.

The albums on which Wayne Shorter performed with Miles Davis are just as indispensable, too — particularly the later ones, like In A Silent Way, Filles de Kilimanjaro (a thousand shades of amber, in musical form) and Bitches Brew. (This sentence subsequently edited for clarity.)

But, to get back to Weather Report: My favorite of the Seventies stack is 1974’s Mysterious Traveller, which indeed I just had on while cooking dinner this past weekend. I have trouble explaining why I reach for it more often than, say, Tale Spinnin’; I just like it more. It’s something in the collected mood, or moods.

(I am compelled to quote Robert Christgau’s review, not because I agree with it, but just because it’s funny: “Maybe what makes the traveller so mysterious is that he doesn’t go anywhere in particular.”)

The album includes a couple of Shorter tunes, including the suitably mysterious title track …

…. and “Blackthorn Rose,” a duet between Shorter and Joe Zawinul that sounds like the two veteran jazz campaigners sitting in a room sharing a conversation.

Never saw him perform; probably should have; but, onward.

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