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Hark! Here comes a live album from Wayne Shorter, esperanza spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington

Wayne Shorter and esperanza spalding in Detroit
courtesy of the artists
Wayne Shorter and esperanza spalding at the 2017 Detroit Jazz Festival.

A heightened sense of occasion surrounded the closing set of the 2017 Detroit Jazz Festival, under a warm summer sky at an amphitheater along the Detroit River. The festival's artist in residence that year, NEA Jazz Master Wayne Shorter, took the stage with an ensemble of former protégés, each a noted artist in their own right: Terri Lyne Carrington on drums, esperanza spalding on bass and vocals, Leo Genovese on piano.

Portions of their set were featured in an episode of Jazz Night in America late in 2017. Now it's due for release in full, as Live From the Detroit Jazz Festival. The album, due out on Candid Records on Sept. 9, will be released on double vinyl and digital formats. Its arrival is welcome news for anyone who has marveled at Shorter's ageless capacity for wonder, and his boundless appetite for discovery.

The quartet, mysterious and swirling from the outset, covered themes both familiar and unfolding. Shorter's tenor saxophone, dark and inquisitive, was initially met by the silvery grace of spalding's voice, over a flowy rubato. Gradually the set gained rhythmic thrust, locking into a fractured-funk take on Shorter's "Endangered Species" and a brisk reading of Fernando Brant and Milton Nascimento's "Encontros e Despedidas."

"Drummer's Song," by Wayne Shorter, esperanza spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington

Then came "Drummer's Song," a composition by Geri Allen, whose passing earlier that summer still registered as a fresh injury for everyone onstage, and many in the crowd. Carrington took the song's reins, initially in a busy duologue with Genovese. The melody, introduced by spalding almost two minutes in, established a tone of urgent clarity — and created a space for Shorter's dartlike and parrying soprano saxophone.

Wayne Shorter, Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding and Leo Genovese
courtesy of the artists
Wayne Shorter with Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding and Leo Genovese at the 2017 Detroit Jazz Festival.

Since that evening — Sept. 3, 2017 — much has happened in the world, and in the lives of these artists. Shorter was recognized at the Kennedy Center Honors, and then mostly retired from performance to focus on a lifelong dream: the creation of an opera. He made Iphigenia in close collaboration with spalding, and it came to fruition last fall.

Earlier this year, we saw the renaming of Wayne Shorter Way in downtown Newark (at an event that spalding attended unannounced, and Shorter joined over video link). As for Carrington, she joined her mentor in the ranks of NEA Jazz Masters, deepened her work at the Berklee Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice, and started a new initiative, Next Jazz Legacy, in partnership with New Music USA.

All of this vital context informs our understanding of the music on Live From the Detroit Jazz Festival, just as everything leading up to it did. It goes hand in hand with Shorter's aesthetic philosophy, and the way he approaches collaborative creation. As Carrington says of the performance, in press notes: “We rehearsed some themes earlier that day, but the preparation was really from our lives and profound experiences with each other.”

Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival will be released on Candid Records on Sept. 9.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.