Shorter joins with orchestral friends

Special to The Times

The stage was filled with musicians Saturday night at Disney Hall. The vast panoply of the Los Angeles Philharmonic reached from one side to the other, almost completely wrapping around members of the Wayne Shorter Quartet. Not exactly your ordinary jazz concert.

Yet despite the obvious potential for aural fireworks, despite occasional passages of orchestral splendor, the principal pleasures of the night were generated by Shorter and his extraordinary players, pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade.

Together as an ensemble since 2000, they have developed an astonishing capacity for improvisational symbiosis, smoothly combining composed passages with intricate, spontaneously invented musical excursions. In fact, one of the most significant problems with the program -- aside from its surprising brevity (it concluded in less than two hours) -- was the lack of time allocated to solo segments by the quartet.

The opening pieces -- Shorter's "Angola" and "Orbits" -- have been heard in various permutations over the last three or four decades, most recently on the CD "Alegria." Like the other works in the concert, they illustrated Shorter's tendency to recycle his music and to apply transformative qualities to basic thematic material as he passes through his musical evolution.

That said, however, both pieces sounded murky and unfocused -- the consequence of the gradual fine-tuning of the audio relationship between the jazz quartet and the Philharmonic as well as the orchestration's heavy reliance on dense tonal clusters. In each case, it was the quartet's playing, with Shorter's soprano and tenor saxophones taking the lead, that brought the music to life.

The audio improved dramatically by the start of the second half. And the quality of the playing, especially in pieces such as "Joy Ryder" and "Midnight in Carlotta's Hair," was enhanced by the opening of more space for the quartet to improvise.

One wondered, however, why Shorter failed to include any significant new works. Aside from "Angola" and "Orbits," "Joy Ryder" and "Over Shadow Hill Way" traced to a late '80s album, recorded at that time by a Shorter fusion-styled ensemble and revived in the quartet's latest CD, "Beyond the Sound Barrier." "Midnight in Carlotta's Hair" was nominated for a best instrumental composition Grammy in 1997; "Novus" was written by Carlos Santana, and "Vendiendo Alegria," by Milka Himel and Joso Spralja, was arranged by Shorter.

Conductor Alexander Mickelthwate, saddled with the difficult task of matching the pulse of the orchestral sections to the vivid, complex propulsion generated by Patitucci and Blade, did a craftsman-like job of keeping everything in sync.

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