Wayne Shorter - Speak No Evil
Feb 20, 2021
The History of the Albums – n°299

[I also invite you to read my previous review on Wayne Shorter - Juju, in order to better understand his beginnings and his life].Although some avant-garde classics and/or Post-Bop prototypes were born in the 50's, it was mostly in the 60's that this jazz musical style blossomed, when creative jazzmen finally reached the limits of Hard Bop. Of course, immediately comes to mind some albums of the pioneer of the Charles Mingus style like Blues & Roots (1960), Oh Yeah (1962), Mingus Mingus (1964), or many classics offered by the legendary John Coltrane like My Favorite Things (1961) and Africa/Brass (1961) which finally remain indisputable or/and unrivalled references when we talk about Post-Bop in the 1960s. However, these two legends and pioneers quickly moved on to other things exploring Avant-Garde Jazz styles, which allowed some of the less "iconic" jazz geniuses to continue to evolve Post Bop. In chronological order of album releases (which does not depend on the date of recording) here are, in my opinion, some of the Post Bop albums of the 60s: Out There (Eric Dolphy - 1961), Black Fire (Andrew Hill - 1964), The Freedom Book (Booker Ervin - 1964), Evolution (Grachan Moncur III - 1964), Destination Out (Jackie McLean - 1964), Juju (Wayne Shorter - 1964) Empyrean Isles (Herbie Hancock - 1964), Rip Rig and Panic ( The Roland Kirk Quartet - 1965), Search For The New Land (Lee Morgan - 1966), Astigmatic (Komeda Quintet - 1966), Miles Smiles (Miles Davis - 1967) and The Real McCoy (McCoy Tyner - 1967). However, in my opinion, one of the best Post-Bop albums of the 60's is the one we are going to study today, the wonder Speak No Evil by legendary saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter. To go further, I would say that Speak No Evil is in a way the album that closes the Post-Bop, as if no one has managed to do better afterwards.

As a symbol, 1964 is a major year for both Post-Bop and Wayne Shorter. Although Speak No Evil was released in 1966, the entire album was recorded in December 1964. So it is not annodin if in the list I quoted you in my first paragraph, if we find so many masterpieces released that famous year. Moreover the apogee as a leader of Wayne Shorter essentially took place at this period. Let's put things in context, Wayne Shorter started very young by becoming one of the leading thinkers and actors of the Jazz Messengers directed by Art Blakey. Wayne Shorter was at his best when he switched from the Hard Bop he was playing in his early days to Post-Bop. If we look at the rest of his career, when he moved to Jazz Fusion, a style where he wasn't as excellent, Wayne Shorter will slowly fade away, without offering any reference as a leader in this current. In 1964, he joined the Second Great Miles Davis Quintet, with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. If Wayne Shorter learned a lot from Art Blakey and then with Miles Davis, it is very important to say that Wayne Shorter (like Herbie Hancock, but on a smaller scale for him) probably resurrected Miles Davis who at that time was "in perdition". By the end of the 50's, Miles Davis had already given a lot for Jazz, exhausted from his work, he still managed to offer one of the best Jazz albums of all time Kind Of Blue, becoming one of the pioneers of Modal Jazz structures. Afterwards his personal life, be it with his difficult relationship with his wife at the time, his health problems, his addictions and behavioral disorders ended up weighing heavily on him for about 8 years. Miles Davis had therefore preferred to work on concept albums with Gil Evans or to tour Europe, rather than following the new Post-Bop and Avant-Garde Jazz/Free Jazz trends, which meant that from the early 60's onwards Miles Davis was eclipsed from the top of the jazz sphere. This is, of course, a brief summary of the highlights. What is important to know in view of the context is that when Miles Davis forms his Second Great Quintet, although his genius will eventually wake up little by little, it is also thanks to his sidemen, mainly Wayne Shorter then Herbie Hancock/Ron Carter that he will find his highest level and a second wind.

Obviously a large part of the Second Great Quintet's legacy and all their albums are due to the collective alchemy, but one of the great ingredients of all this is explained by Wayne Shorter's work, both in the interpretation and in the work of compositions that give an exceptional timeless signature. To understand this, we have to go back to the year 1964, when Wayne Shorter recorded 3 albums of high level, where we can feel the massive evolution between the different albums. First of all Night Dreamer, followed by Juju and the apotheosis Speak No Evil, all recorded the same year. I think that if we depart from the pioneers and legends of Post-Bop, Wayne Shorter was the only one to push this Jazz style so far, to the point of perfecting it in an absolute way. So Speak No Evil is not only one of the premises of all that Wayne Shorter will offer later on with the Miles Davis quintet and personally, but it's also the total culmination of his work as a leader. Composed of 6 compositions that he of course composed himself, Speak No Evil is an ambitious album at first glance, because of its homogeneity and its musical timbre, however Wayne Shorter has succeeded in the complex task of making it an unstoppable and divinely formidable monument. Reconducted as a quintet in relation to Juju, to follow the Miles Davis inspiration, Wayne Shorter is accompanied by a brand new staff, with Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones, so huge names. As usual, Wayne Shorter relies mostly on Modal structures, while focusing on Speak No Evil with a few nods to early Hard Bop. This reformation and the new ideas that Wayne Shorter brings will allow him to show the full extent of his talent as a saxophonist, whereas until now his talent for composition has been mostly appreciated in the jazz sphere. Driven by fantastic teammates, Wayne Shorter will illuminate with his performances the whole album as never before heard. Not only does each track sound like a true demonstration of relentless elegance and sophistication, witnessing a gripping passion and hallucinating mastery. All along Speak No Evil, the quintet alternates between a smooth but complex performance, which at any moment unpredictably will explode into adorable madness. It's as if you are constantly being lulled to sleep, transporting you into total ecstasy, but at some moments everything is embraced. Among the multitudes of details and chords that complement the divine, both warm and icy, Wayne Shorter's quintet gives the impression of playing with the temperature like a tightrope walker, which gives that uncommon and singular feeling when listening to Speak No Evil. In this Post-Bop classic, there are several exceptional moments, such as the eponymous composition, very frenzied (no pun intended), the sumptuous suspended ballad Infant Eyes (which remains his greatest standard to this day) and the introduction Witch Hunt, a recital of lightning improvisation articulated around a paralyzing rhythm. Don't miss Speak No Evil, if you're looking for a jazz reference album from the 60s
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