After a half-hour delay that had the room at the brink of impatience, Trio ACS took the stage. Teri Lyne Carrington, obscured by a large leaf-shaped cymbal, began with a flurry of activity on the kit and then settled into a backbeat. Geri Allen began with a series of Schönberg-esque chords (h/t to Miles Okazaki for the Twitter theory lessons), carving space in Carrington’s drum sound. Carrington integrated some early hip-hop edginess into her time feel, and demonstrated her role as a precursor to drummers like Chris Dave and Jamire Williams. Though the piano was low in the mix until the closing tune, Allen’s ideas were clear. Her improvising seemed to centre around repeated motifs and intervallic relationships, giving her lines a forward motion. It was my first time seeing Esperanza Spalding as a bassist only, and it was a revelation. Her solos were patient, and sounded exactly like the melodies she composes for herself to sing. It was evident how unified an artist she has become. Her tone, too, was remarkable – even in the grandeur of Maisonneuve, it sounded like the sound was just coming from only her bass, round yet focused. ACS’ approach was similar to Wayne’s – Shorter’s indelible melodies would poke out of roiling, at times hypnotically pulsating, improvisation.
If Trio ACS represented Wayne Shorter the improviser, Sound Prints reflected upon Wayne Shorter the composer. This isn’t necessarily new territory for Dave Douglas; indeed, his tune "Ups & Downs" hearkened back to the Stargazer record with his turn-of-the-millennium sextet. That record, like the concert, featured powerhouse drummer Joey Baron. It was a thrill to see that the hook-up between Douglas and Baron in full force after a decade. Douglas was on fire throughout the set, with power and control throughout all registers of the horn. He was fairly quote-happy too, throwing out nods to “Juju,” “Footprints,” and “Epistrophy.” Baron gleefully responded to every nuance, sometimes with sensitivity, at other times with shit-disturbing interruptions à la Han Bennink. Joe Lovano’s tenor sound is still as characteristically gruff and deep as I remember it. His compositions sounded as indebted to Wayne (and Wayne’s partnerships with trumpeters like Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard) as it was to the pairing of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Bassist Linda Oh used the same instrument and amp as Esperanza and got a totally different sound out of it – far more electrified and almost rubbery. She was a truly captivating soloist and entirely attuned to Baron’s playing. With two highly personal soloists up front and the rhythmic deluge (excuse the pun) from the drums, pianist Lawrence Fields seemed to have difficulty carving out his place in the music. Never mind the fact that he also had the unenviable position of occupying the piano bench between Geri Allen and Danilo Perez! He has tremendous facility on the instrument – the final passage of his solo in Douglas’ “Sprints” ended with some fantastic locked octaves – and he played some truly moving blues, but his comping often got lost.
The notebook got put away during intermission. Wayne’s current quartet, more than a decade into it, is exceedingly difficult to write about in the moment. I wanted to be present in that moment and not scribbling away on a pad, anyway. The Quartet creates an endlessly changing quilt of sound, with responsiveness that borders on telepathy. As the band took the stage, someone in the audience initiated a singalong of the traditional French Québécois birthday song (“mon cher ami, c’est à ton tour de te laisser parler amour”), which the trio of Danilo Perez, Brian Blade and John Patitucci seized upon. It set the mood for the Quartet’s entire set, and in a way let the audience into the process of how the band transforms melodic ideas. Compared to last year, Wayne played way more saxophone. I would say he split time equally between tenor and soprano, and his sound on both was far fuller and consistent than the previous year. He began with short, darting declarations and worked his way to more involved passages. The final climax of the set was so intense – Perez hammering dissonant chords at maximum volume, Blade addressing his kit with such ferocity the bass drum skidded out by two feet – I felt something physically shift inside me, and I was vibrating for nearly an hour after the set ended. Due to Blade’s physicality, the playfully funky encore of “S.S. Golden Mean” was marred a bit by various microphone glitches. No matter – the music spoke far above the technical issues. As he celebrates his 80th birthday, Shorter is still every bit the “weather man,” as Joe Lovano called him. “He lets you know what’s happening and he can predict the future.”