Wayne Shorter Quartet, “Without a Net” (Blue Note)
The title gives a big clue. Saxophonist/composer Shorter and his quartet engage in what his bassist John Patitucci calls “spontaneous composition,” pushing improvisation to the tune itself. The results make pianist Danilo Perez and drummer Brian Blade more powerful and the leader less so, although Shorter, 79, an elite jazz composer, seems to revel in the group creation.
But the CD should also come with an advanced-degree-of-difficulty warning, like a tough ski slope. The set of 11 originals generates a good amount of quirky chaos along with the sublime spontaneity.
Take “S.S. Golden Mean,” where Shorter quotes the populist Cuban-jazz classic “Manteca” before the tune devolves into rigorous swerves for initiates. The 23-minute “Pegasus” is oddly classical, the confluence of winds and orchestration making it sound stiff, albeit with spurts of jazzy froth and a calamitous, creative midsection. It won me over by the end.
There are some mishits, but Shorter, to his credit, continues to be daring.
Karl Stark, Philadelphia Inquirer
Pusha T, “Wrath of Caine” (pusha-t.com)
“Drug-dealer Piacassos” is what Pusha T calls his songs in “Only You Can Tell It,” from his excellent new mixtape “Wrath of Caine,” but that’s not quite right. Unlike Picasso, who was evasive and full of dark whimsy, Pusha T is a hard-nosed literalist.
He has been this way for more than a decade, first as one half of Clipse, the acclaimed duo he formed with Malice, his brother, and lately as a solo artist on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint, though to be fair, less so there. Early Clipse recordings rendered the logistical and emotional minutiae of the drug-dealer life with military precision. They were harrowing, chest-puffing records.
At times, it has seemed as if Pusha T has been too comfortable riding shotgun with West; the serrated edge that often marked his voice was smoothed over, the subject matter diluted. But he has had a couple of great moments in recent years: a staggering verse on West’s “Runaway,” and also a sly turn on the remix of Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like.”
And “Wrath of Caine” is Pusha T coming full circle, a stark and aggressive album that’s his best work in years. He sounds sharp and determined, a technician who has rediscovered his gifts, in part by rediscovering his muse. That would be the wages of the drug game, in which he has few peers capturing.
This is a controlled album that, in its way, is as rowdy as Waka Flocka Flame’s 2010 debut, “Flockaveli,” the high-water mark for recent hip-hop aggression. (There’s also a surprising amount of reggae on “Wrath of Caine,” from the hook of “Blocka” to the vocal interludes by a mouthy Jamaican woman, adding to the album’s rough 1990s sheen.) The production is overwhelming — menacing pianos and booming horns on “Millions,” staggering keys on “Revolution,” smooth early-Kanye-esque gospel-soul on “I Am Forgiven.”
JON CARAMANICA, New York Times