Nicholas Payton, Mysterious Shorter (Chesky)

The influence of saxophonist Wayne Shorter on the world of jazz is undeniable. As a member of the 1960s Miles Davis Quintet and then as co-founder of the ’70s fusion phenomenon Weather Report, Shorter displayed an all-encompassing style of playing and a meticulous, sensitive approach to composition that helped reshape jazz music forever. Mysterious Shorter, an album described in the liner notes as “an investigation and exploration of the groove music of Mr. Wayne Shorter” reestablishes the impact that Shorter has had on the next generation of jazz musicians, not the least of whom being New Orleans’ native son Nicholas Payton.

On Mysterious Shorter, trumpeter Payton is joined by some of his finest musical peers. Saxophonist Bob Belden, organist Sam Yahel, guitarist John Hart and drummer Billy Drummond all display their own highly refined talents on the eight Shorter compositions undertaken for the project. The quintet manages to feel relaxed while keeping the groove tight on key tracks like “Tom Thumb,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and the album’s most recognizable tune, “Footprints.” Some of the album’s best moments are found in the rhythmic interplay between drummer Billy Drummond and Payton, most notably on tunes like “Montezuma” and “Masquelero.” Drummond’s intuitive, constantly evolving rhythms are often the glue holding the ensemble together in spite of varying tangents embarked upon by the soloists.

Mysterious Shorter, like all recordings made for the Chesky label, was recorded live using just a single microphone in a Manhattan church-turned-studio. Because of the church’s natural acoustics, the sound of the album is impeccable, a fact that becomes especially apparent when listening on headphones or through a nice set of stereo speakers. The success that Payton and company achieve recording in this setting helps establish them as some of jazz music’s finest architects of sound.