2013 Montreal Jazz Festival: June 28-July 2, 2013
When multiple award-winning trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Joe Lovano performed with their nascent Sound Prints group at the 2012 TD Ottawa Jazz festivalthe second of just three North American dates before the group headed for Europe that summerit was clearly a quintet with plenty of promise, upon which much was already being delivered. With a book of original music inspired by Shorter, this quintet that also featured pianist Lawrence Fields, rising bass star Linda Oh and perennial favorite (and, seemingly, the world's happiest drummer) Joey Baron, it was already a strong and fearless group predicated on knotty writing and unfettered free play. There were some weaknesses, most notably in the young Fields, who appeared competent but not completely up to the strength of those around him.
A year later, with plenty of touring under its belt, much has changedmost notably with Fields, whose performance demonstrated greater strength and confidence, both as an accompanist and a soloist, rendering last year's assessment perhaps premature and unfair. With his 2012 Ottawa show being only the pianist's second gig with the groupand surrounded by such strong playersa year later it's become clear that Douglas and Lovano must have seen something in this young pianist, and that something is now being revealed much more clearly to everyone else.
Like Trio ACS, the only thing missing from Sound Prints is a record, although an early morning conversation with Douglas outside the Hyatt Regency Hotelafter a 5:30am fire alarm forced the building to be cleared (thankfully the weather had turned and it was clearer, drier and warmer)revealed that Lovano and the trumpeter had been hoping Shorter might write something for the group, a dream that came true when, after the previous evening's show, Shorter presented him with a new piece of music. Of course, based on newer material like Shorter's "Pegasus"the centerpiece of Without a Net that teams his quartet with the Imani Windsa new piece of music for Sound Prints will most certainly be a challenge. Be careful, they sometimes say, what you wish for, though if anything's a certainty it's that whatever challenge Shorter presents to Sound Prints, it'll manage it while, at the same time, adding its own emergent signature.
As for the quintet's performance at Shorter's birthday celebration? Everyone was on fire. Lovano seemed incapable of standing still, beyond his own solos moving around the stage; the same could be said for Douglas, who was in particularly fine form last night, effortlessly building solos from small building blocks into more serpentine linear form that moved from low register growls to stratospheric screams of outrageous power. Baronas responsive and imaginative as he was just a few days earlier in Ottawa with Kuhn and Swallowdrove this set of original music split roughly 50/50 between Douglas and Lovano. He also had, in Oh, a partner whose muscular, powerful tone belied her diminutive size. Everyone soloed with ears open, making the end result a collective with the capacity to roar, but equally capable of bringing things down to a whisper at the drop of a hat.
The idea of one group doing its own arrangements of Shorter tunes, the other original material inspired by the saxophonist, worked particularly well as it set the stage for the now-octogenarian's arrival on the Maisonneuve stage. Beyond the standing ovation and audience singing to show its appreciation, what Shorter demonstrated in his set, at just under an hour, is that while some artists rest on their laurels when they enter their senior years, others not only continue to push their music forward, they actually manage to break new ground.