DVD Review - Wayne Shorter Live at Montreux 1996
By: David Ball
Although there are moments when The Wayne Shorter Quintet flirts with syrupy contemporary jazz, Wayne Shorter Live at Montreux 1996, remains an important concert DVD. The saxophone giant re-emerged in 1995 with his first new album since 1988; the Grammy-winning but slickly produced High Life. The 56-minute Live at Montreux features only five songs, with three from the new album, but all the performances are top-notch. The former John Coltrane apprentice and Mile Davis Quintet member looked like he was really enjoying himself, even smiling a few times (something he rarely does). And Shorter's expressive form on both soprano and tenor sax matched his mood throughout the set. Shorter is the star of the show, but he gives his crack band plenty of time to shine, particularly when guitarist David Gilmore, bassist Alphonso Johnson and drummer Rodney Holmes grind a bit of sandpaper into the otherwise smooth High Life tracks "At The Fair" and "Children of The Night".
The highlight of the set is the frenetic-paced "Over Shadow Hill Way", which heads into hard-fusion Weather Report territory with Gilmore's fiery guitar challenging Shorter's more reflective soprano; this Shorter could hold his own with his old adventurous Weather Report self. If the Quintet has a flaw, it's James Beard's incessant chiming keyboards which gives the concert a dated jazz-pop feel, but he really only savages opening track, "On the Milky Way Express".
The DVD includes four amazing bonus tracks that rival the 1996 concert: a mammoth 27-minute take on the Shorter classic, "Footprints", and an early better version of "On The Milky Way Express" from Montreux 1991; plus two songs from the festival the following year, "Pinocchio" and "Pee Wee/Theme". All the performances are smoking-hot, but they should be. Shorter's 1991 band is one of his best: Herbie Hancock on keyboards, Stanley Clarke on bass and drummer Omar Hakim; his 1992 Quintet weren't hacks either, featuring Hancock along with trumpeter Wallace Roney, bassist Ron Carter and the amazing Tony Williams on drums.
Note: Don't be deceived by the DVD box listing 16:9 aspect ratio. Only the bonus tracks were done in this format, so you'll have to do some picture adjusting if you own a HD-TV. Live at Montreux 1996 section was shot on video (probably broadcast-quality Beta) in a standard 4:3 aspect ratio, but the picture is clean and bright, especially when compared to the somewhat grainy bonus footage. And the DVD offers three audio choices: basic two-speaker stereo is pretty good and the far superior 5.1 surround and DTS set-ups; both are expressive and well balanced through all five speakers (I prefer DTS).
Wayne Shorter Live at Montreux 1996 is an interesting later career snapshot from a jazz giant.
Video: "Endangered Species" by The Wayne Shorter Quintet, live at Montreux in 1996