Dave Askren Jeff Benedict
Paraphernalia – Music of Wayne Shorter
Now that Wayne Shorter is no longer performing, this is the second album to feature his music this year although Shorter did play on the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s Music of Wayne Shorter while this quartet effort, Paraphernalia, from guitarist Dave Askren and saxophonist Jeff Benedict could be considered a tribute. The two front liners, both 25-year veterans, have recorded two previous albums together (2009’s It’s All About the Groove and 2017’s Come Together) but should draw more attention for their wide ranging, carefully curated and re-imagined interpretations of the harmonic, melodic tunes of Shorter. They are supported by versatile L.A.-based bassist Jonathan Pintoff and percussionist Chris Garcia who play in jazz, Latin, and rock settings.
Most of these tracks are taken from Shorter’s albums on Blue Note as leader, with four from his tenure with Miles, and only one from Shorter’s long-running Weather Report. Interestingly, they perform two ballads as a duo, those two arguably forming the emotional core of the project – “Miyako” (named for Shorter’s daughter) and the Spanish-tinged “Infant Eyes.” One of the most telling quotes from Askren lets you know that this was indeed an effort to interpret Shorter rather than try to mimic his playing, “We didn’t want to just do covers of Wayne’s tunes. We didn’t try to sound like him, because you cannot do better than the original music. You can just do your own thing and make music your own way.”
We’ll take you briefly through the repertoire, letting you know that a bit more history can be accessed through the uncredited liners, which appear to be written by one of the two principals. The begin with “E.S.P” the title track from Miles’ 1965 album with his Second Great Quintet. This version is blues-based, swinging and funky and the musicians make room for Benedict to play his alto supported only by percussion. “Yes And/Or No” comes from Shorter’s 1964 JuJu, originally conceived as an up-tempo swing, performed here by the quarter as a mambo, creating a spotlight for Garcia’s myriad use of percussion instruments.
“Iris,” a slow waltz, also stems from E.S.P, performed by Benedict on soprano as opposed to Shorter’s original played on tenor. “Mahjong,” named for the oriental game, appeared also on JuJu. It has an Afro/Latin groove comprised of short simple melodic statements with repeated chords meant to represent people playing the game. “Fall” hails from the Miles 1967 Nefertitti, this version played in 6/8 time with an Afro/Cuban groove. The title track comes from the Miles 1968 Miles in the Sky, his first excursion into fusion, before Jack Johnson, In a Silent Way, and Bitches Brew, etc. This was the second to the last album Shorter appeared on with Miles. Notably, during Shorter’s tenure with Miles, he played exclusively on tenor, so the use of alto and soprano on these Miles tunes is a variation. IN keeping with the jazz-rock groove, Askren compass hard and Benedict is aggressive on alto.
The previously mentioned ballads deserve more description. “Mikayo” is from 1967’s Schizophrenia, with Askren on a nylon string guitar and Benedict on a sensuously warm alto. “Infant Eyes,” which closes the album comes form Shorter’s classic 1966 Speak No Evil, again with the acoustic guitar and Benedict, this time sounding quite like Shorter on soprano, even though the Shorter’s original was played on tenor.
It would have been a grave oversight to leave out Weather Report and we do get “Harlequin” from 1977’s Heavy Weather sans the layers of electronic sounds. This one is played straight ahead with Benedict on soprano and Askren delivered strong guitar lines. They also pay homage to that classic boogaloo Blue Sound of those mid-‘60s albums, this time again from Schizophrenia, they take the first track “Tom Thumb” in funky style with strong ensemble and conversational dialogue from the two principals that culminates in a “shout chorus” inspired by Shorter’s original solo.
Shorter is one of the most revered composers in jazz over the past sixty years and many of his tunes have become standards. Askren and Benedict reach a find balance of performing his music reverently and joyously.
- Jim Hynes