From there, I explored the Guitar Show. I'm not a guitarist by any stretch of the imagination, but the beautiful luthierie on display is a great immersive art exhibit. I've also got a soft spot for Tele-style guitars with humbuckers, and anything to do with slide or steel guitar. Not that I can play any of it.
Becca Stevens, however, has a command of various stringed instruments. In her set at Upstairs, she switched between acoustic guitar, ukulele and Peruvian charango. With her band of Liam Robinson on accordion and piano, Chris Tordini on bass and Jordan Perlson on drums and cajón, she performed a bunch of new tunes as well as songs from her album Weightless. Beginning with the joyful exaltation of "Tillery" - "may we shout and may we sing" - it was an introduction to the three-part vocal harmonies (all except Perlson sang) that permeated the show. The harmony parts are sometimes simple unisons, but are usually far more intricate than that. She has a penchant for melodies that seem hauntingly familiar, delivered with a tender innocence. Stevens' rhythmic complexity is far more subtle than her Tillery counterpart Gretchen Parlato, left to the interlocking guitar and piano parts of "Be Still" or the polyrhythmic claps of "Canyon Dust." Perlson provides the perfect support for this band, easily switching from the deep, thudding backbeat on "Jac" to traditional mastery of the cajón, often playing both kit and cajón simultaneously. I discovered the band through their cover of Seal's "Kiss from a Rose," which they reprised here with more abandon. Their version of Joni Mitchell's "Help Me" was far more rhythmically propulsive than the original.
I ran over to Metropolis for a snippet of Esperanza Spalding and her Radio Music Society. Beginning with an introduction of tuning a radio to the proper frequency, the little big band launched into an almost James Brown-style series of introductory solos. For all the press that's been written about Spalding's pop cultural cachet, the beginning of the show was the jazziest I've ever heard Esperanza be, anchoring her band through a slow burning swing. Her monologues that preceded each tune were rehearsed but allowed room for flowing with the vibe of the room. I left at the end of her great arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "I Can't Help It." All reports were that the rest of the show was equally mesmerizing.
I'm not entirely sure what to write about the Wayne Shorter Quartet that hasn't already been written many times over. The harmonic and rhythmic simpatico between these guys is nearly unparalleled, snippets of tunes coming in and leaving, coming together in a truly powerful way. I couldn't identify the names of any of the tunes they played, and in a sense that didn't matter, because the purpose of what they do lies in each individual moment and doesn't necessarily need the context of what tune they may or may not be playing. The show opened with John Pattitucci's gorgeous arco bass, with Wayne and Danilo Pérez cascading chromatically overtop. Shorter seemed to grow stronger through the course of the show. His tenor sound was surrounded by air and saliva, but his soprano was all core tone. To be in the presence of that sound - that sound! - for the first time was an unforgettable experience. Wayne clearly leads the discussion and the shape of the music, even when he's not playing. Leaving lots of space for Pérez's interludes and cadenzas, it's as if the three of them are an extension of Shorter's unplayed sound. The sheer muscularity with which Brian Blade addresses the drums is pure visceral exuberance. At the end of the first tune, all four of them were rightfully filled with glee over the impossible tightness with which they concluded the piece. Sporting ear-to-ear grins, they crossed the stage to high-five each other. If there were one moment to sum up the beauty of this band, that would be it.
During the show I was struck by the similarities between Wayne's quartet and the trio of Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, and George Lewis that I saw at Victo. Clearly, there are sonic differences between the two - Pérez is a much less angular player than Muhal - but the sense of freedom to pursue the moment (as evidenced by Shorter tapping his mouthpiece cover inside the piano and whistling into the mics) and the deep, intensely focused listening are identical. The sense that these are bands fostered on long relationships, I think, is also the key to their impressive mastery.