Wayne Shorter at Berklee Performance Center

Although I count Wayne Shorter among my all-time musical heroes, I admit I haven’t kept current with his recent output—and by “recent” I mean pretty much anything post-Weather Report.  Which is why when I arrived at Berklee Performance Center on a frigid Boston night last month, I honestly didn’t know what to expect, aside from a month of subsisting on top ramen after being TicketMastered to the tune of $60.

Being unburdened by expectations turned out to be a good thing. The set they played was not really a set at all, but rather, as John Garelick noted in his review in The Boston Phoenix, a “concert-long group improvisation.” And while it was breathtakingly beautiful at many points (and incredibly skillful throughout), I felt like overall the music was lacking something. More on that in a moment.

But oh that band! Danilo Perez (piano), John Patitucci (bass), and Brian Blade (drums) all lived up to their billing. So much so, in fact, that when the show concluded and the audience began emptying out into the cold night air, I overheard someone say, “Man, if only I could have put Joshua Redman in front of that rhythm section instead!” That’s a silly notion for a lot of reasons, but I think I know what he was getting at.

Much of the music felt like it lacked a clear statement or theme. The rhythm section gave Wayne ample opportunity to hold forth, to speak, and for the most part he seemed to demur. He played sparingly, “leaving long rests between statements” (Garelick again) and those “statements” rarely qualified as phrases. Whether his formidable powers as a soloist have diminished, or his aesthetic priorities have merely shifted, is impossible to know. But where hip-hop has the MC and traditional African drum ensemble music has the master drummer, jazz has the soloist. I found myself missing that main narrator, that master storyteller voice that Wayne has embodied so powerfully for so many years.

Nevertheless, his unmistakable musical presence was felt by everyone in that hall. His signature sound alone evokes entire periods of jazz history and even managed to trigger in me the Pavlovian audiation of some of those iconic solos from the Miles Davis Quintet albums of the 1960’s. But, hey, you can’t live in the past. And Wayne deserves credit for not trying to.