Wayne Shorter, the former Weather Report co-leader and Miles Davis sideman, has led a quartet since 2001 that has regularly and justifiably been called the finest working group in jazz (other contenders: bands led by Dave Holland, Branford Marsalis, and Keith Jarrett). Believe the hype. For Beyond the Sound Barrier, recorded between 2002 and 2004 while the group was on tour in North America, Europe, and Asia, the Wayne Shorter Quartet offers the kind of telepathic interplay afforded only by extreme sensitivity, intellect, commitment to the art, and, well, sheer road time.
Shorter, who plays tenor and soprano saxophone -- along with pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade -- explores a heady, ambitious set that includes three of his new compositions. "As Far as the Eye Can See," developed from a musical fragment recorded on the group's 2002 disc Footprints Live, is sprightly and playful, an open-ended game of tag that grows increasingly furious. "Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean," built on a simple four-chord pattern, thrives on gleeful simultaneous sparring between Shorter and Pérez. And the rangy title track is moody and introspective, with Patitucci's heavily percussive lines driving the mutating groove. The saxophonist also revisits two pieces from 1988's Joy Ryder album: the title track, with its tricky melody line, and the alternately stately and demonstrative "Over Shadow Hill Way."
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Shorter, a film buff, opens Beyond the Sound Barrier with a twelve-minute stroll through "Smilin' Through" from the 1941 Arthur Penn movie of the same name. Like much that follows, it's an object lesson in transforming the simplest ideas into something nearly profound.