Living legend sax great Wayne Shorter’s 1995 High Life album on Verve records snagged a Best Contemporary Jazz Grammy in 1997. It was the artist’s first post Weather Report solo outing in seven years and featured keyboardist Rachel Z, bassist/producer Marcus Miller among others. Heavily layered with keys and textures, Shorter’s patented style was in full force; whereas, the album leaned more towards the radio-friendly spectrum and was met with mixed reviews by jazz and jazz-fusion critics. Yet this 1996 appearance at The Montreux Jazz Festival showcases a top-flight touring band that leans heavily towards the fuzoid domain, where Shorter trims some of the fat evidenced on High Life.
The Shorter quintet launches "On The Milky Way Express," into an extended workout. Weather Report alumni Alphonso Johnson provides the thumping and pumping bass lines, funked up by powerhouse drummer Rodney Holmes amid the leader’s animated, fluid and lyrically resplendent tenor sax discourses. Shorter offers his band-mates liberal improvising opportunities in front of the SRO audience. It’s a democratic engagement indeed as the musicians execute vigorous exchanges, much to Shorter’s noticeable delight.
"At The Fair" is another work culled from the High Life album. On this piece Shorter toggles between soprano and tenor saxes. Here, a then embryonic jazz/jazz-rock heavyweight, guitarist David Gilmore cranks it up via a sizzling array of single note riffs, often punctuated by Holmes’ zealous and very physical, polyrhythmic drumming. Shorter follows with soaring soprano sax choruses, leading to a magnetic and penetrating ostinato-based melody line with the guitarist.
Keyboardist Jim Beard layers these Shorter comps with oscillating synth textures while intermittently injecting a purer jazz element into the set with his climactically oriented acoustic piano solos. Highlights abound throughout, abetted by the camera crew’s pan, wide angle and zoom shots, which is a facet that paces the band’s full throttle impetus.
Bonus tracks from Shorter’s alignment with pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Omar Hakim signifies a jazz super-group, and is prefaced by Quincy Jones introductions from the 1991 and 1992 Montreux Jazz Fest dates. The ’91 set is marked by the ensemble’s comprehensive improvisation of Shorter’s classic composition "Footprints," which is enamored by the respective artists’ solo spots. They cover the saxophonist’s "On The Milky Way Express," although Hancock’s now dated sounding hand-held synth keyboard phrasings cast a cheesy effect into the overall schema. Regardless, the main thrust of this DVD is rooted within Shorter’s ’96 set, which is engineered upon Weather Report-like dynamics, buoyant underpinnings, and superior group-centric improvisation, all equating to thrills a minute.
Running time: 105 minutes approx.