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Wayne Shorter And Orpheus Chamber Orchestra At Carnegie Hall, Friday, February 1st, 2013, Reviewed

It is all very well to have a Chamber Orchestra but a Chamber Orchestra without a conductor? That is the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra who have a rotating leadership based upon the composition they are rehearsing at any given time and then include all members of the orchestra in forming the finished piece of work. Add saxophonist and jazz composer Wayne Shorter to the mix, as the Chamber did Friday night at Carnegie Hall, and you get a total of 120 years of free thinking about music.

At 80 years of age, Shorter has his first album since 2005, Without A Net, released on Tuesday and he performed "Pegasus" off the album with the Chamber Orchestra. Shorter's quartet plus a  dozen odd violins, two more upright basses, a big bass drum and a half dozen wind instruments all coming together to unload what sounds to my untrained ears to be a mix of Glenn Branca and Shostakovitch, oh and, Bernard Hermann. I kept on expecting Anthony Perkins to stab me in the shower.

The houselights are kept up through out the performance and some 32 musicians could be found on stage at any given time. After the intermission this included Shorter and his band. Shorter adds his saxophone, sometimes more than others, as the mood grabs him. He sits in the front and at the side of the stage but I can't tell whether Wayne is leading, following or just hanging around. Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (40 years old this year) claims to have a "core" for each piece who manage the way a conductor might but I couldn't tell who they were.

Which makes me in the minority. In my perch at the top of Carnegie Hall, my $30 tix finds me surrounded by what feels like a  body of music students on an away day from Juilliard. They sit complete rapt, leaning over to get just a little closer to the stage as they listen and analyze, like a computer programmer at an Apple convention. That this is all very dramatic and somewhat disorienting goes without saying, whether it is actually Jazz as you and I know it is another question entirely. With the wind instrumental quintet Imani Winds, Shorter is not parsing classical and jazz, fusing them maybe, to a degree. But at Carnegie Hall the sound that emerged was more modern classical than anything. The final piece of the performance was "Prometheus Unbound" and if you have ever heard "Capricorn 2", (where the composition gets its roots) off Shorter's Algeria from 2003, you will hear what I mean about the connect and the disconnect.

I was discussing jazz with editor Helen Bach who is not a fan and told her it is an acquired taste but worth the effort, the same might be said for Thursdays performance. It asks a tremendous amount of the listener after the intermission. The sound is atonal, harsh, everything slashes into you. It is a harsh formless beauty to the untrained ear.

The first part of the evening, with just the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra,  found the orchestra running circles round a Charles Ives composition"Symphony No. 3, The Camp Meeting". Ives is a true American master, and like Shorter an innovator, and the orchestral performed a beautiful version of his work. And while there is nothing musty about the Connecticut natives Ives,, born in 1874, and unrecognized in his time (he made his money managing an insurance company), his melodies are so distinct you can leave the Orchestra to their own designs and float away on the melodies.

Shorter is considered our greatest living jazz composers and a genius at improvisation and saxophone and that's all well and good but this is a pop music website and everything we review us seen through that prism of popularism. An everyman concept. As such, I, for one, need very clear forms to love a type of music, and I didn't find it last night.

One more thing: I have been streaming the new Wayne Shorter album on NPR. It is really great, I didn't mention his band here, they are terrific.

Grade: B

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