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Wayne Shorter - Night Dreamer (1964)

Updated: May 9

Wayne Shorter- Night Dreamer

(Blue Note)

Released November 1964

Recorded April 19, 1964

Saxophone legend Wayne Shorter has had an incredible career and easily ranks amongst the most impactful jazz musicians of the second half of the 20th Century. While most musicians are lucky to be associated with one "classic" group, Wayne Shorter was part of three: Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1959-1963), Miles Davis's Second Great Quintet (1964-1970), and Weather Report (1971-1986). Outside of these groups, Shorter has been celebrated for his solo albums and compositions.

Wayne Shorter began his life and musical journey in Newark, N.J. Encouraged by his father, Shorter attended Newark Arts High School and earned a Music Education degree from New York University in 1956. After college, he spent two years in the army. Upon his return, he began playing with trumpeter/bandleader Maynard Ferguson. In 1959 he became a member and eventual musical director of Art Blakey's Jazz Messenger. Shorter offered many original compositions with the group and continued Blakey's tradition of providing hard-bop jazz presentations that blended bebop elements with other African American musical forms like gospel, blues, soul, and swing.

In 1964, Wayne Shorter hooked up with Miles Davis, who assembled a supergroup of younger jazz musicians for his Second Great Quintet. With Shorter writing much of the material, the group presented a more exploratory style of jazz that offered modernistic melodies and a looser and more interactive rhythmic concept. Around the time he joined Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter began recording solo albums for Blue Note Records. The first of these releases was Night Dreamer, which featured a fantastic group of musicians that were all associated with John Coltrane —Lee Morgan (trumpet), McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass), and Elvin Jones (drums). Although they were not released during the year, Shorter recorded the classics JuJu (1965- Blue Note) and Speak No Evil (1966- Blue Note) in 1964.

Beginning in 1971, Wayne Shorter and pianist Joe Zawinul formed the electric jazz fusion supergroup Weather Report while continuing various solo and sideman projects. Once the band folded in 1986, Shorter presented more notable projects. In 2018, Wayne Shorter retired from performing after nearly 70 years but continued to compose. During his career, Wayne Shorter won 11 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Honor. Sadly Wayne Shorter died when I began preparing this podcast on March 2, 2023. He was 89 years old.

Side 1

Track 1 - “Night Dreamer” After a somewhat trippy piano intro, the ensemble presents the melodic line as a jazz waltz in the style of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the group in which Shorter gained his reputation. Then the solos are presented by first featuring Shorter, then Lee Morgan and McCoy Tyner. Shorter then jumps back in (4:45) with an even more passionate solo than his first before returning to the written line, after which Shorter is off and running again with a third and final solo before a studio fade. Particular attention should be paid to the incredible connection between Jones, Workman, and Tyner. "Night Dreamer" is a wonderful opening track, and I believe you can hear the influence of John Coltrane on Shorter’s playing on this record (+)

Track 2 - “Oriental Folk Song” is an adaptation of an old Chinese tune. The piece begins with a rubato introduction that is very Coltranesque. The main written line features long tones played against a light swing. The dynamics pick up slightly as Shorter begins his improvisation (1:45). Morgan takes over at (2:50). Tyner follows by presenting a solid opening solo theme that he continues to develop (4:00). The band then provides a written interlude that begins a call and response (5:10) between Elvin Jones and the ensemble before returning to the written line. (5:44). As expected, the soloists are brilliant, and together Jones and Workman's hookup adds the perfect palette for Shorter, Morgan, and Tyner to explore.

Track 3- “Virgo” is Wayne Shorter’s astrological sign. Virgo men are known to be rational thinking and excellent at problem-solving while still being adventurous. They are also calculative but still passionate with solid intuitive skills. That is a perfect description of Shorter! "Virgo" begins abruptly as Shorter presents the ballad against the rhythm section. As with many of his works, the song offers a melodic and harmonic sophistication that exemplifies his music. After Shorter's solo, Tyner shines, as he often does on ballads (4:15). Shorter then re-enters to begin his final descent (4:50). Morgan is absent from the track. Special praise should again be given to Elvin Jones, who plays brushes, and Reggie Workman for their accompaniment. Jones, in particular, was known to play with great fire and energy, but not enough is made about his ability to play with sensitivity.

Side 2

Track 1- “Black Nile” is meant to depict the journey of a river. It's one of the most recognizable pieces from the album. As with all the tracks thus far, Shorter is the first to navigate an improvisation, which he does with great skill and passion. Lee Morgan also does a fantastic job when he takes over (2:40) from Shorter. Tyner then jumps in with his solo statement (3:52) as the journey continues. Elvin Jones adds severe turbulence with his fiery solo (5:06). The group steadies the ship (5:40) when they return to present the melody. "Black Nile” is a highlight. Thematically the idea of following a river journey has been done before, most notably by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana who did so brilliantly on his incredible work “The Moldau,” one of my favorite concert works. (+)

Track 2 - “Charcoal Blues” is Shorter's specialized take on the traditional and straightforward 12-bar blues format. The track begins with Tyner before Shorter presents the somewhat quirky melody. After Shorter’s lengthy solo, Tyner takes center stage with his improvisation (4:09). Hearing Shorter, and Tyner play the blues using their signature styles is fascinating. Again Morgan is absent from the track.

Track 3 - “Armageddon” was considered by Shorter a showcase piece for the album. In an interview with Nat Hentoff, Shorter talks about the track, "What I'm trying to express here is a sense of judgment approaching - judgment for everything alive from the smallest ant to man. I know that the accepted meaning of ‘Armageddon’ is the last battle between good and evil - whatever it is. But my definition of the judgment to come is a period of total enlightenment in which we will discover what we are and why we're here." Shorter was undoubtedly a deep guy. The song's written section offers a somewhat irregular form than the average jazz standard. The soloists, Shorter, Morgan, and Tyner, handle the uniqueness of the chord changes with great confidence and skill. (+)

Final Thoughts

Night Dreamer is the first of the classic Wayne Shorter solo albums from this period, many of which were recorded around this time. The album's success comes from Shorter's writing and the talents of Lee Morgan, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and Reggie Workman.

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