September 7, 2017

Wayne Shorter - JuJu (1965)

A few weeks ago I was finally able to cop a robust 1980s CD reissue of JuJu; it was the only non-archival 60s Wayne Shorter album I didn't own. JuJu is also my favorite Wayne Shorter record and a jazz album I consider to be one of the genre's top five. Since I'm nowhere near as passionate about music as I was a few years back, I've experienced a lot of disappointing moments where I listen to something I once held as a favorite only to feel deflated when I'm hit with a feeling of "oh, this really isn't too incredible at all". I was relieved when my brain didn't do this on my first JuJu relisten in almost 2 years. I frequently listen to my Night Dreamer disc (his debut album and the one before this); because of this, I kind of expected JuJu to expose itself at around that album's quality--I was wrong. The debut is also fantastic, but Shorter's compositions and solos jump into another category of amazing in his transition from Night Dreamer to JuJu; the stuff is simply from another planet.

In the CD's liner notes, Shorter describes JuJu as a "lighter album than the first" and I've never heard an artist so wrong about their own music. Night Dreamer is mesmerizing and serious, but JuJu exhibits a much different spiritual, deep, and ferocious energy on the level of John Coltrane's great quartet. Of course Shorter uses the same pianist and drummer as Coltrane, but these bandmates take on a completely new identity under the junior tenor player. Only Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler, and John Coltrane have ever released strings of notes as cathartic and soul-defining as Shorter on JuJu. His playing on Night Dreamer is well above average, but what's heard on the sophomore album shoots the older stuff into the dirt. Unlike the previous record, I don't hear any hesitations in his improv note choices. Shorter is also incredibly sure of the central melodies he has composed and the whole band strengthens as a result. These six pieces are among the most engaging compositions the genre has to offer and could be considered the six strongest of Shorter's insanely fruitful career. I guess the band is technically following a traditional melody-solo format, but at the same time it's something I don't really notice when listening--like the band is just too good to be pinned down in a structure like that, as if it's writing its own rules as it goes along. If you love jazz music and haven't heard this in a while, give it a listen. Also, if you're new to jazz, JuJu wouldn't be a bad place to start. It's in the progressive jazz realm, but it's not dissonant or overly noisy--just gorgeous chords from McCoy Tyner, endless energy from Elvin Jones, and mindful melodies mixed with pure power from Wayne Shorter.