Monday, September 25, 2006

Wayne Shorter - Adam's Apple (1966)

No slight on the four musicians who directly contribute to making Adam's Apple such a memorable experience, but hearing this intriguing program of music in light of subsequent history brings to mind three additional associates of Wayne Shorter who were not present at the February 1966 session.
First and foremost is Miles Davis, whose then-current band featuring Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams was in its second year together and well on its way to being recognized as the second classic Miles Davis quintet. The legendary fivesome recorded "Footprints" eight months later on Miles's Columbia album Miles Smiles, and the success of that version (which actually saw release before the present take) helped to make the blues easily Shorter's most popular composition. Here, in its original arrangement, "Footprints" is in 6/8 meter throughout, and the heavy, pendular piano vamp suggests the feeling of the John Coltrane quartet. Davis recast the rhythmic terrain with Williams imposing an 8/8 meter against the original 6/8 as the band drifted between the three and four feelings for a more fluid and mysterious groove. Hancock's composition "The Collector" (a bonus track which first appeared in Japan) was also recorded under the name "Teo's Bag" by the Davis quintet two years after this performance, but in this instance the open form 4/4 swing feels conventional next to the version's unpredictable energy. Joe Chambers's contribution plays a critical role in generating that energy, and in the overall cohesion of all the present performances. While Chambers's name does not spring to mind as quickly as those of Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams when considering Shorter's music in the 1960s, he did participate on four of the saxophonist's Blue Note albums of the period, where he proved equally sympathetic to Shorter's vision.
Jimmy Rowles, the second absent presence, wrote the haunting "502 Blues (Drinkin' and Drivin')" which could be described as a very Shorteresque ballad. The tune was originally recorded by the Bill Holman-Mel Lewis Quintet on the 1958 Andex album Jive For Five with the composer on piano and haunting muted trumpet by Lee Katzman. Here, it provides the first recorded sign of the mutual admiration in which Shorter and Rowles held each other. In the subsequent decade, Rowles returned the compliment on several of his own recordings by covering "Lester Left Town" (with Stan Getz), "The Chess Players" (in two versions), and three other Shorter compositions on a duo album with bassist George Mraz. It's a shame that Shorter and Rowles never found the opportunity to record together.
Finally, the spirit of Shorter's former frontline partner in Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Lee Morgan, hovers over the title track. "Adam's Apple" the tune proves that even an artist as singular as Shorter to bend to the soulful vamp formulations that made Morgan's hit "The Sidewinder" a template for so many subsequent Blue Note recordings. This is not one of the genre's notable successes, and one wonders if Shorter and company really had their hearts in the effort. That said, the saxophonist's use of the same riff as both entrance point to his solo and coda is a notable touch, and Hancock's ability to extend funk into outward-bound territory with his comping and improvisations is once again on display. When it comes to writing a catchy soul anthem, however, Shorter's magnum opus is "Tom Thumb" which he recorded with Bobby Timmons for Prestige a month before this session and reprised on his own 1967 Schizophrenia date - and which happens to be among the tunes reprised by the Rowlez/Mraz duo.
The remaining three compositions deserve far more attention than they have received in subsequent years. "Chief Crazy Horse" shows how the familiar 32-bar AABA form could still be empolyed with distinctive results, "Teru" is one of Shorter's most gorgeous ballads, and "El Gaucho" connects with Brazilian samba in both its rhythm and its manner of spinning fixed melodic material over elegantly mutating chords. It is rather startling to realize that all three of these gems have with rare exception been neglected during the past two decades, a period during which it has seemed that half of all new jazz albums have contained at least one Shorter composition. "El Gaucho" did get a twin-piano reading from Harold Danko and Kirk Lightsey on Shorter By Two in 1983, that Rowles's earlier efforts notwithstanding, can be seen in retrospect to have started the deluge of Shorter covers.

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