Wayne Shorter: Super Nova
Wayne Shorter (soprano sax)
Super Nova (Blue Note 84332)
Composed by Wayne Shorter.
Recorded: New York, August 29 or September 2, 1969
Rating: 99/100 (learn more)
It's hard to remember a time when Wayne Shorter didn't play at least as much soprano sax as he did tenor, but he came to the smaller horn relatively late, at age 35: after playing with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers; after recording most of his early Blue Note masterpieces; and after making his mark with the classic Miles Davis Quintet of the mid '60s. It wasn't until late 1968 that he began recording on soprano, first with Miles (on the In a Silent Way sessions), and later on this title track from his own 1969 Blue Note album.
Shorter might have found the soprano late, but he hit the ground running. Based on a slight, endlessly transmutable motiv, Shorter's lissome soprano solo seems to throw into relief the quickness he always exhibited on tenor. Everything seems sped up here—the tempo, the horn's sound, Shorter's remarkably precise manner of articulation (something that would become ever more pronounced over the years). Backed by a smoking rhythm section, "Super Nova" is a highly-chromatic music that eschews conventional bop or even modal harmonies, yet retains the explicit swing element. The soprano's small size allows it to be played at higher velocity, making it the ideal horn for Shorter and younger hyper-agile freebop players (Branford Marsalis and Joshua Redman being two of the best) who would fall under his spell over the next thirty-plus years. Few of those younger players would ever capture the same air of spontaneity, however, nor would they evince as much originality as Shorter, who would remain one of the dominant voices on the horn for decades to come.
Reviewer: Chris Kelsey