Wayne Shorter Quartet
"Without a Net"
(Blue Note Records)
Three and a half stars
There's a moment during Wayne Shorter's much-anticipated new album where someone, said to be a member of the string ensemble Imani Winds, lets out maybe the most natural response to Shorter's darting soprano saxophone. "Oh my God," she says with a touch of disbelief, and the band twists further into the hypnotic 23-minute composition "Pegasus."
It's an understandable reaction. "Without a Net" is Shorter's first album for Blue Note Records in 43 years, and it's the sort of release that seemed preordained for superlatives. Primarily taken from a European tour in late 2011 (the lone exception being the aforementioned "Pegasus," which was recorded live with Imani Winds at Disney Hall in 2010), the album is a sprawling, relentlessly inventive listen that nods toward Shorter's rich legacy as a true musical giant, even while pointing toward an undeniable truth that, even at 80 years old, he isn't finished exploring yet.
The album opens with a nod toward Shorter’s fertile period backing
"Plaza Real" from Shorter's Weather Report days is bent into new, cascading angles, and the group gets another sideways acknowledgment in a few flourishes in "Pegasus" that recall "Black Market." But as much as the record is a showcase for Shorter and his knotty compositional voice, the star remains the band and its near-telepathic interplay, leaving the music feeling spacious and oddly ephemeral, as if it keeps changing with every listen. While the album is daunting to absorb at a sprawling 77 minutes, the results are well worth it.
The Wayne Shorter Quartet plays Disney Hall on Saturday at 8 p.m. along with Esperanza Spalding, who will be performing a piece -- written for her by Shorter -- with the backing of the L.A. Philharmonic. And yes, you should probably find a way to see it.