Speak No Evil

Wayne Shorter

Speak No Evil
(Blue Note)

Speak No Evil

Wayne Shorter, tenor sax; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Herbie Hancock, piano;
Ron Carter, bass; Elvin Jones, drums.

1. Witch Hunt (Shorter) 8:07
2. Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum [mp3] (Shorter) 5:50
3. Dance Cadaverous (Shorter) 6:42
4. Speak No Evil (Shorter) 8:21
5. Infant Eyes (Shorter) 6:51
6. Wild Flower (Shorter) 6:00
Produced by ALFRED LION
Cover Photo by REID MILES
Cover Design by REID MILES
Recording by RUDY VAN GELDER
Recorded on December 24, 1964

Legends, folklore and block magic--the arts of mystery and darkness--have long been a special source of inspiration for artists, perhaps because their symbols are drawn from the roots of the imagination. One of the best examples is the work of Edgar Allan Poe, who mercilessly exposed the forbidden fantasies that drift near the ends of dreams. Composers, too, have probed into similar areas. Sibelius' Valse Triste, Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle and Mussorgsky's Night On The Bare Mountain are but a few of the better-known works attributable to magic, legends and folklore.

The collection of Wayne Shorter compositions included in Speak No Evil follows similar lines. "I was thinking," he explained to me, "of misty landscapes with wild flowers and strange, dimly-seen shapes--the kind of places where folklore and legends are born. And then I was thinking of things like witchburnings, too." Much of this feeling comes through in the compositions, especially in the floating harmonies, the chords filled with tonality-disturbing ambiguities, about to move in one direction but sometimes stopping to float like the elements in Shorter's "misty landscapes." The effect is heightened by the remarkable interaction between Ron Carter and Elvin Jones. Little of what might specifically be called time-keeping occurs in what they play; rather is there a flowing, sometimes overlapping, sometimes independent pulsation that shifts back and forth between superimposed metric subdivisions.

Shorter has played his way through a variety of music and circumstances in his career, some of which--as with most jazzmen--must have ranged pretty far from his own musical objectives. He feels, however, that the changes wrought by his years of active playing have primarily been in the widening of his own artistic vision. "I'm getting," he said, "more stimuli from things outside of myself. Before, I was concerned with myself, with my ethnic roots, and so forth. But now, and especially from here on, I'm trying to fan out, to concern myself with the universe instead of just my own small corner of it." It is, particularly at a time when the expression of interior emotions is a focal point for many young players, a particularly refreshing statement.

"Whatever change I have made so far," Shorter explained, "is there inside me, churning around in a little circle, but still not revealing itself wholly. When I was doing this date it was a struggle to get it out, to forget about the saxophone and its technical problems per se and abandon everything that I have done before." Like most of the short, painful steps that characterize artistic growth, Shorter's struggles do not always produce successful results. But when everything works, when the saxophone ceases to be a mechanism and becomes instead an extension of his voice (as frequently happens in this recording), the value of Shorter's goals becomes clear.

"Witch Hunt" makes extensive use of fourths in its line, which is fundamental and blues-like in style, but ethereal and haunting enough in execution to fully justify Shorter's title. Interestingly, all the soloists, first Shorter, then Freddie Hubbard and Herbie Hancock, use a fourth as a constructional motive in their improvisations. The second title, "Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum" [mp3] of course, is a contradiction of the famous couplet spoken by the giant in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. I doubt, however, if that monstrous creature ever swung through his castle with quite the elemental feeling the Shorter group achieves. Hubbard, who takes the first chorus, plays with plangent lyricism, but, characteristically, he varies his phrases with exploding bursts of quick, flashing runs. Shorter plays a gutsy solo, coloring it with a fascinating range of timbres, bending and smearing his tones through the use of a flexible embouchure. The relationship between "Dance Cadaverous" and Sibelius' Valso Triste was noted by Shorter, but he had another inspiration as well. "I was thinking," he said, "of some of these doctor pictures in which you see a classroom and they're getting ready to work on a cadaver." The most noticeable musical feature of Shorter's line is the recurring chromatic chord change. Hancock's first chorus, gentle as a sonnet, floats above the complex planes of interlocking rhythms played by Carter and Jones. Notice too how the returning melody blossoms out of Shorter's solo.

Both Hubbard and Shorter venture into unusual improvisational areas in their choruses on "Speak No Evil." Shorter in particular seems interested in finding rhythmic and melodic ideas that are unrestricted by traditional boundaries. "Infant Eyes" is the only line that departs from the ways of magic and folklore. "I was thinking of my daughter," said Shorter. The piece is constructed, in unorthodox fashion, of three consecutive nine-bar phrases. Shorter plays throughout most of the track except for Hancock's introduction and brief nine-bar solo toward the end. Listen for the clear unaffected quality of Shorter's tenor sound, not unlike the velvety middle register sound of the cello. "Wild Flower" can be heard according to Shorter, simply as what the title suggests-on Ode to a Wild Flower. It is a 6/4 tune, with a dancing, light-hearted line that probably will stay with you long after your phonograph is turned off. The soloists--Shorter, Hubbard and Hancock--play with distinction, and notice in particular the marvelous rhythmic cross-currents in Elvin Jones accompaniment. No small part of his talent lies in the ability to adapt to a given playing situation by finding an appropriate complimentary area of his own interpretive powers.

Legends, folklore, black magic--all sources of artistic inspiration. But nothing about the work of Wayne Shorter and his group can be traced to necromantic secrets. In Speak No Evil they rely upon the stuff of all artistic achievement-talent, craftsmanship and imagination.

--DON HECKMAN, from the liner notes.

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