When the light from one of the most ethereally spellbinding stars in the jazz firmament flickered out with the death of Wayne Shorter at 89 this month, the great improviser and composer left a multiplicity of ways to remember him. A tersely powerful tenor saxophonist, Shorter, like his mentor John Coltrane, cultivated a contrastingly pensive, vulnerable, and even unsentimentally romantic persona with the delicately oboe-like and tonally temperamental soprano sax.
That fickle instrument, pioneered and almost exclusively played from the 1920s to the 50s in voice-like, vibrato-trembling tones by the New Orleans genius Sidney Bechet, was otherwise largely neglected in jazz until Dixielander turned trailblazer Steve Lacy’s postwar partnerships with Cecil Taylor and Thelonious Monk, and Coltrane’s My Favourite Things in 1961.
In recent years the impish French original Émile Parisien has proven a brilliant inheritor of those soprano traditions – Bechet particularly. He’s a prominent presence on this lyrical yet quirky quartet set. Les égarés means “those who stray”, which aptly characterises genre-hoppers like Parisien, Malian kora maestro Ballaké Sissoko, improvising cellist Vincent Segal and accordion virtuoso Vincent Peirani.
The tracklist is diverse and constantly surprising. Steady kora hooks quietly drive song-like soprano and cello lines towards the release of soaring, jazzily agile accordion improv; slow folk-ballad themes turning to whirling Anatolian shindigs; Joe Zawinul’s Orient Express is a churning groove of accordion chords that frame Parisien’s seductively soft-edged, whispery tones; Esperanza is a joyous, klezmer-like dance.
Parisien’s Dou is a dreamy sax melody with the composer at his most Bechet-like, while Peirani’s Nomad’s Sky often suggests an imploring voice, with softly whooping soprano sounds rising over long arco-cello chords. If ever there was a powerful argument for jazz being an attitude to music-making rather than a genre, it’s this rare gem.
Also out this month
The Canadian composer/bandleader and soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett has formed her all-female Maquette group with gifted young Cuban newcomers, Bunnett having long sustained a musical connection with the island. Vivacious originals, jazz covers, and headlong soloing populate Playing With Fire (True North Records), notably from founding-member and pianist Danae Olano, 19-year-old violinist Daniela Olano, Zimbabwean singer Joanna Majoko, and Bunnett herself. Live At Fabrik (NDR Fabrik) adds to the posthumous discography of inimitable saxophonist Pharoah Sanders: it’s a previously unreleased 1980 Hamburg live show, with Sanders in thrilling voice on anthemic originals including You Gotta Have Freedom and The Creator Has a Masterplan. And the Multi Traction Orchestra’s Reactor One (Superpang), recorded separately by an A list of international improvisers, is a remarkable sonic collage assembled by producer Alex Roth. The sometimes heartbreaking poetry of Arve Henriksen’s ever-astonishing trumpet sound is an indispensable feature.