Since I often make a point of writing about jazz as “chamber music by other means,” I should be pleased when others who focus on the classical side make the move into jazz. However, when Ivan Hewitt decided to write about the Wayne Shorter Quartet’s performance at the Barbican for the London Telegraph, his account seemed more directed at the classical set than the jazz aficionados. Declaring Shorter to be “the Wagner of jazz” on the basis of an 80-minute set beginning with a 40-minute composition comes across like a distortion of both Richard Wagner and Shorter in equal measure. Hewitt seemed to rest his case on extended duration and Shorter’s use of “pithy motifs,” which seems to indicate that his understanding of both Wagner and jazz practices is seriously limited.
Shorter is hardly the first to work on an extended scale of duration. My guess is that he, himself, would acknowledge a debt to John Coltrane, who always seemed to move his improvisations into yet another take on whatever tune he happened to be playing, just because he felt he had more to say about it. On the less tune-based side we have some of the more extended abstract efforts from Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman. The bottom line is that none of this is about duration; it is about, as Karlheinz Stockhausen put it, “how time passes” over the course of that duration. Hewitt never seems be able to account for how Shorter’s Barbican gig came off as a listening experience, possibly because Hewitt just did not have that experience.