Monday, February 23, 2004

Alan Shorter

Wayne Shorter's late older brother. Now there's an obscuroid figure. He recorded two sessions as a leader: Orgasm in 1968 for Verve, and Tes Esat in 1971 for a label called America. Also lent his flugelhorn playing on a handful of other recording sessions as a sideman. I managed to score a copy of the former when Verve briefly reissued the album as part of its short-lived "Elite Edition" series. It's kind of an odd album in that in the middle of recording Alan apparently switched producers, and also had to replace some of his players. In spite of the behind-the-scenes turmoil, Orgasm is a consistent sounding recording, and one of the more beautiful statements from the free jazz community. I've heard of comparisons between this album and Ornette Coleman's early work (the two composers share a common bassist, Charles Haden), and I find that I can play this album fairly comfortably side by side with some of Coleman's classics (Change of the Century comes to mind). Much has been made about his apparent lack of training and technique, although honestly I can't really hear any deficit in his flugelhorn playing. He seems to get the job done within the parameters of his compositions, which I would suppose is pretty much what matters. It's a painfully hard to find album, but worth finding and spinning.

Tes Esat is one that I've read good things about, but is practically impossible to score. So for now, I'm patiently waiting. Apparently it's a bit more of a blowing session than his first album, and since I enjoy plenty of joyous noise, I would certainly be open to hearing it.

Alan apparently had a number of personal problems that made him difficult to work with, and he died in obscurity in the late 1980s. His brother Wayne had this to say about him:

The strongest thing you can say about Alan is that he was an original, as original as you can get. He didn't want any academic guidelines to equip him to reinvent the wheel. He was always in confrontation, or there was confrontation on the horizon...with record executives, rehearsal places, front offices, professors in school. Teachers would mark on his papers, and he would ask "Why?" on top of the teachers' remarks.

I gather that Alan did quite a bit of composing during his brief life, and left behind scattered remains of those compositions as his legacy. Wayne once commented that he would one day look through Alan's work and do some of his compositions (Wayne used his brother's "Mephistopheles" on one of his mid-1960s albums), although as far as I am aware that has yet to bear fruit.

A review of Orgasm can be found here, courtesy Ink Blot Magazine.

Postscript: In Alan's own words from his album, Orgasm - ....the soloist must embark on what I call straight line energies to set his whole being into continuous motion, striving for the orgasm of himself in reference to that melody. On this journey you'll find yourself utilizing all your beliefs from within and without. All these are components in this continuum of motion which feeds to the total continual experience of the music.

This itinerant drive within me causes pointed attention to the universals contained within me and my environment. This makes for clarity of my earth function. So you see this new music is merely an excursion into a vacant apartment within yourselves and not via "the skies", ... and I do Believe.

Make of that what you will. I read the statement as a recognition of the bodily basis of music, especially free jazz which requires a great deal of the musicians physically, as well as a recognition that the listener's reactions will depend on what he/she projects onto the music.

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