I first saw the Wayne Shorter Quartet at Masonic Hall in San Francisco in 2001 and was awed by them then. Hearing this latest set of performances culled from over the next three years, it is clear that this group has only become a stronger unit. The interplay between the four players is so keen that it comes with the force of a machine at times, as in the sprawling eleven minute take of "Joy Ryder" where Blade's emphatic drumming and Perez's percussive keyboarding reach the brink of intensity before moving on to another musical idea; indeed the group shifts tempo and mood with ease and common purpose throughout all eight tracks. The brief "Tinkerbell" shows the band's ability to improvise a composition into being, while their reading of Mendelssohn's "On Wings of Song" shows their facility at handling more tightly scripted material as well.
The bandleader gives himself plenty of opportunities to shine as well. Alternating as usual between tenor and soprano, the venerable saxophonist plays with trademark restraint and melodic purpose in opening such original compositions as "Over Shadow Hill Way," while his solos here and elsewhere find him reaching boldly into free territory. The version of Arthur Penn's "Smilin' Through" that opens the album features some particularly wild blowing from Shorter, while "Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean" starts about as out as Shorter gets before the rhythm section reigns it into a Latin rhythm.
Beyond the Sound Barrier is the latest document of the amazing Wayne Shorter Quartet. Another live album, another collection of material old, new and borrowed. Right. In the exact same reductive sense as each canvas by Jackson Pollock is another of his paintings.