Wayne Shorter’s remarkably creative Indian summer continues. Just before he turned 70 a few years ago, he threw off his artistic funk, went back to an acoustic format, formed his first great band since the heyday of Weather Report and expanded his music so that it reflects more and more of his wide-ranging spheres of interest. Now he is playing with symphony orchestras, using his own arrangements, with his jazz quartet at the heart of the action. But we have to wonder: Has his reach expanded too far?
The quartet was front and center at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Saturday night — with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, drummer Brian Blade and Wayne playing and interacting with extraordinary mutual telepathy, miked with clarity and restraint (especially Blade). Beyond them stretched the massive expanse of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, thickly doubling what Shorter was doing or playing long, twisting melodic lines while Shorter improvised overhead on soprano or tenor saxes.
It amounted to a vertical expansion of horizontal music, loading on the weight without adding much that couldn’t have been implied from what the quartet was doing. The strings, winds and brass were treated as blocs, with hardly any sense that there were diverse groups of instruments within those blocs.
The clouds of harmonies were dense and sometimes dissonant, and it was difficult to tell at times whether the ensemble was not in sync (they had only one rehearsal) or if the music was actually written that way. Tellingly, the arrangement that seemed most idiomatic was the one not credited to Shorter, a string-orchestra treatment of Santana’s “Novus” that had an economy of texture and movement in short supply elsewhere.
Shorter’s repertoire stretched far and wide, from his Miles Davis period (a transformed, much slower “Orbits”) to selections from his latest Verve album “Beyond the Sound Barrier” (“Over Shadow Hill Way,” a revival of “Joy Ryder” from his long electric period). The sweep could have been even wider, as Shorter has been extracting material lately from classical composers like Sibelius, Villa-Lobos and Mendelssohn, but curiously, he chose not to take advantage of those symphonic possibilities in this concert-hall setting.
In any case, the whole affair was a brave, if overblown stab at a classical/jazz fusion, with some passages of beauty, stretches of ecstatically complex grooves and the rare charge of excitement that comes when a revered artist takes bigger risks as he ages.