Wayne Shorter- JuJu (1965)
Wayne Shorter- JuJu
Recorded August 3, 1964
Released July 1965
Wayne Shorter 1964-1965
Wayne Shorter was indeed a dominant force in the mid-1960s as a jazz saxophonist and small-group composer. For some time, he occupied that space with John Coltrane, a man he loved and respected deeply. By 1965, Coltrane was entirely moving into more avant-garde free jazz stylings, which alienated a core of his audiences. While Coltrane was shifting away from hard bop and traditional jazz formats, Shorter continued to explore and expand upon more conventional forms. From 1959 to 1964 Shorter became a principal composer for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Even after leaving the group, Blakey records were being released with Wayne Shorter, including Free For All (1965), Kyoto (1966), and Indestructible (1966). After leaving Blakey, Shorter was the final member to join what would become known as Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet, showcasing a new youth movement for Davis. The group was Herbie Hancock (piano), Tony Williams (drums), and Ron Carter (bass). Instantly, Shorter became a principal composer for that band, and his presence and the group's exploration of composition, form, rhythm, and melody created a new sound for jazz. Wayne Shorter’s earliest album releases with Miles Davis included ESP (1965), Miles in Berlin (1965), and The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965 (recorded in 1965 and released in 1995). With Shorter in his group, Miles would eventually journey into a jazz-rock idiom in the late 1960s. Shorter went on to do the same with the formation of Weather Report, the most popular jazz-rock unit possibly ever. Between the years of 1964 to 1965, Shorter was also recording frequently as a leader and recorded a series of masterpieces for Blue Note Records that were being stockpiled and released throughout the 1960s with Night Dreamer (1964), JuJu (1965), Speak No Evil (1966), The All Seeing (1966), Adam’s Apple (1967), Et Cetera (1980).
About the Album
JuJu includes musicians connected to John Coltrane. This included McCoy Tyner (piano), Elvin Jones (drums), and Reggie Workman (on bass with Coltrane in 1961). Workman worked frequently with Shorter in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. The record includes six original compositions by Shorter. The record showcases Shorter’s talents as a writer and improviser.
Wayne Shorter was uniquely complex. He was intelligent, driven, accepting, spiritual, imaginative, introspective, curious, and brilliant. These traits are well documented in the recent documentary Zero Gravity (2023). In 1961, Shorter married Teruko Nakagami, and they had a daughter. The marriage came to an end in 1964. In 1966, he met Ana Maria Patricio, with whom he married in 1970. The couple also had a daughter, Iska, who suffered terribly from seizures and brain trauma. In 1966, Shorter was met with the first of several incredible losses when his father died after driving home from one of Wayne Shorter’s gigs. In 1986, Iska passed away, likely from a seizure that resulted in an accidental overdose of prescription medication. The loss was incredibly devastating. Several months later, Shorter's only brother, trumpeter Alan Shorter, died at age 55 of a brain aneurysm. Then, in 1996, Ana Maria and Shorter’s niece died in the TWA Flight 800 crash on July 17, 1996. Somehow, Shorter would continue to work and find solace through his spirituality, positivity, and music. In 1999, Shorter married Ana Maria’s friend, Carolina Dos Santos, and they remained happily married until Wayne Shorter passed on March 2, 2023, at 89.
(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)
Track 1- “JuJu” is a jazz waltz, the lengthiest track on the record, clocking in at 8:30. The Coltrane influence can be felt and heard immediately on this track mainly because McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones had a particular way of creating a soundscape. Wayne Shorter begins with the written melody. McCoy Tyner takes the first improvisation against the rhythmic interaction between Elvin Jones and Reggie Workman. When Shorter renters, a slight lift in the energy is felt. Shorter is exploratory during his solo, and the connection between John Coltrane’s and Wayne Shorter’s approaches can easily be compared here. This is not to suggest that Shorter was a Coltrane clone, but it's hard not to make the comparison during this album, particularly with this rhythm section. After a fiery Elvin Jones solo, Shorter returns with the main melody. Before the song settles, the group breaks into a vamp as Shorter returns to soloing before a fade. “JuJu” is a great album opener and is considered a jazz standard. (+)
Track 2- “Deluge” begins out of tempo, setting a serious mood. Then, rhythmic time is established as Wayne Shorter presents the written theme. The melody is clever and memorable. Elvin Jones does a perfect job supporting the main theme. As with most Wayne Shorter tunes, his choice of chord structures is unique. The saxophonist begins his solo by offering shorter, spacious phrases. McCoy Tyner has a particular way of voicing chords that leaves a sense of openness for Shorter to explore, and his solo builds throughout. Tyner takes the second solo; as always, he's creative and uniquely original—Wayne Shorter then re-enters with some force to present the closing theme. (+)
Track 3 - “House of Jade.” Jade is a highly valued stone that symbolizes gentleness, serenity, and harmony. Jade is said to have many meanings, including strength, luck, and good health. The stone is also said to have healing properties. As for the music, the song begins with McCoy Tyner playing alone before the rhythm shifts into a gorgeous walking ballad. At this slower tempo, Wayne Shorter plays more melodically. At one point, the rhythm section shifts into a double-time feel against his solo. Following a short and somewhat active solo by Tyner, the melody of the song returns.
Track 1- “Mahjong” is a tile-based game developed in the 19th century in China and has spread worldwide since the early 20th century. The song begins with Elvin Jones soloing. Tyner then enters. Shorter's melody follows, and he leaves a good deal of space between phrases during the A section. The A sections are played with a quasi-Latin rhythm, shifting the bridge into swing. McCoy Tyner takes the first solo; again, it is hard not to think of his work with Coltrane. Wayne Shorter solos next, and he paces his solo perfectly. The track is well executed. As with “JuJu,” Shorter and the band continue to explore after the return to the melody before a fade. (+)
Track 2- “Yes Or No” is an uptempo tune that comes right in, and Shorter plays with incredible passion and fire throughout as he shifts into the solo after presenting the melody. Tyner counters with his impressive improvisation. As for the song construction, it is somewhat unique in terms of form, which was common with Shorter vehicles. The A sessions are 14 bars long, and the B section is a standard 16 bars. (+)
Track 3- “Twelve Bars To Go” is the group's take on a twelve-bar blues, the most common form and structure used throughout jazz history. The track seems to be filler, but it's a cool jam, and hearing Shorter and the band explore the common song form is of interest, even if compositionally, it's quite simplistic for a Wayne Shorter vehicle.
JuJu is one of Wayne Shorter's finest records and comes during one of the saxophonist's most celebrated periods. The supporting cast is, of course, incredible. However, with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and Reggie Workman’s playing styles being so instrumental to the overall texture of John Coltrane’s music in the 1960s, the album can be criticized for being close to a Coltrane tribute record. Even Shorter’s approach to improvisation and phrasing sometimes seems patterned after Coltrane on the album. Regardless of comparisons between Coltrane and Shorter, the music is still incredible, and the originality of Wayne Shorter’s compositions makes up for any lack of a new group concept.