Dispatch from Massey Hall


The Wayne Shorter Quartet played Massey Hall last night. Brad Mehldau opened for them, playing solo piano. They both made me want to scream. One in disgust, one out of sheer joy. Here's why...

*Brad Mehldau - Solo Piano, or Tracey rips her own arm off and beats herself senseless with it*

From the moment Mehldau walked onstage I felt uneasy. His response the to the applause that came on his entrance was a bit much. His bow a bit, let's say precious. But I shouldn't let that get to me, right? Let the music speak for itself and don't be a judgmental girl just because he looks full of himself and is wearing a shiny bowling shirt that is so ten-years ago, and makes him look like "Chandler Bing goes to prom". Those things don't matter. I'm a sophisticated enough audience member to know that. I am. I am. I am.

So I wipe all of those childish, negative thoughts from my mind and I let the music speak for itself. He opens with a pseudo classical version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". He is a prodigious talent to be sure. I am reminded of a moment at a high school assembly where a recent Eastern European immigrant and new student was playing piano for the rest of the school and a friend turned to me in amazement, held up her hands and said, "I have ten, how many do you have?". Mehldau can play a lot of notes. He can play them fast. He twists the melody and eeks it out ever so slowly, making the tune a complete puzzle. I have to admit I did enjoy seeing if I could identify the tunes he was playing. I felt like the melody was a secret that he wanted to keep from us and by identifying it I had managed a small, personal victory.

The second tune was either actually from the classical world, Radiohead or self composed. I couldn't pin it down. I did hear the melody from Dave Matthews Band's tune "Crash" (you know, "crash...into you") repeated in the bass line a few times.

After the second tune Mehldau spoke into the mic for the first and last time in his set. It was to tell the lighting people to "just leave the lights one way" or something to that effect. What the hell?! That's why you have riders, or rehearsal, to specify that having a blue wash on the lights in the first tune and red wash for the second one messes with your creative mojo. It was a complete overreaction. From that point on I kept hoping someone's cell phone would go off and that he would run off-stage in a huff. Mehldau running off-stage in a huff would have made the screaming in my head stop.

What I heard through the screaming in my head for the rest of the set was another Lennon/McCartney tune, "I Fall in Love Too Easily" and "On The Street Where You Live". I also heard the bass line for "Crash" again. The rest of it is a blur. It could not have ended fast enough.

Mehldau is a talented piano player. That much is undeniable. The problem is there's no heart, not one ounce of feeling. And ultimately, that makes him nothing but dull.

*The Wayne Shorter Quartet, or Zen and the art of jazz*

Wayne Shorter and his Quartet (Danilo Perez - piano, Brian Blade - drums, John Patitucci - bass) play serious music. This is not jazz for the lighthearted. This is not stuff that's at home on the radio or as background music at a dinner party. While that much is obvious from the start, none of the musicians on stage displayed even a hint of feeling "too hip for the room" (see Brad Mehldau).

Shorter was clearly suffering from a bad cold, you could see it in the way he swallowed and in the kleenex he kept hidden in the piano. This didn't stop him from playing at his best though, and in being completely present during the ninety minute set.

The Quartet played four tunes through the course of the set. It was phenomenal to hear them work through the compositions. The playing seemed completely organic, Shorter almost zen-like, playing sparse, economical lines. Patitucci is impossible not to watch, everything about him and his playing was completely compelling. Seeing him interact with Blade, who was so inventive and intense was a joy.

A feeling of goodwill filled the concert hall, from the moment they took the stage to the moment they left, after one encore, arm in arm, Shorter with his horns and kleenex box in tow.

It would have been nice to hear some of his earlier compositions, say "Footprints" or "Night Dreamer", but this is one case where I feel the artist is completely entitled to play whatever he pleases. If Wayne Shorter wants to look forward, and not back, that's ultimately a great gift to his listeners.


  1. Anonymous9:22 AM

    It's not Massey Hall, but you are cordially invited by a young relative to attend LCI's music night on May 18th.

    - BT

  2. Can't wait! And I promise not to write a scathing review of the grade 9 woodwinds!

  3. Or their lighting techs, right? ;)

  4. Well I can't NOW after my little tyrade, now can I?! Sigh. What have I done?

  5. Oh, dinna worrit yerself, girl! (Or however one says this in fake Highland dialect...)


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