Without a Net is Wayne Shorter's first Blue Note recording date since August 26, 1970, when he recorded Moto Grosso Feio and Odyssey of Iska. That's nearly 43 years. Shorter has pursued many paths since then, as a member of Weather Report, and as a bandleader. This quartet was assembled for a 2001 European tour and has been playing together ever since. It shows. The interplay Shorter shares with pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Pattitucci, and drummer Brian Blade is not merely intuitive, it is seamlessly empathic. All but one of these tunes were recorded during the group's 2011 tour. The lone exception is "Pegasus," recorded with the Imani Winds at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. There are six new tunes here; the quartet is credited with two of them. Shorter also revises some others, including set opener "Orbits" (the original was on Miles Davis' Miles Smiles) and "Plaza Real" (from Weather Report's Procession album). The only outlier, "Flying Down to Rio," is a version of the title tune from a 1933 film. Fireworks from this band can be heard everywhere. But the group aesthetic is especially noticeable in the penetrating romanticism of "Starry Night," where what appears restrained -- at least initially -- is actually quite exploratory and forceful. It's also apparent in the slow deliberation at play in the brooding "Myrrh." "Plaza Real" is a different animal here. Shorter's soprano soars and swoops through the melody, extending it at each turn as Pérez offers bright, pulsing chords to highlight the harmonic richness on display. Blade digs deep into his tom-toms, and finds an alternate polyrhythmic route that underscores the elegance and momentum in Shorter's lyric invention. The album's centerpiece is the 23-minute "Pegasus," which expands the band into a nonet. It is a tone poem that commences very slowly and deliberately. But its form gradually opens to allow for great expressions of individual and group freedom. Shorter's athletic soprano solo is breathtaking. The arrangement on "Flying Down to Rio" turns its catchy yet off-kilter melody into a group dialogue centered around a swirling series of complex harmonic statements. Pattitucci introduces "Zero Gravity to the 10th Power" with a funky vamp before layers of melody, harmonic extrapolation, and rhythmic interplay are added. By the time Shorter takes his tenor solo, we've heard everything from Latin grooves to modal assertions to classical motifs and some near explosions from Blade. While any new album from Shorter is an event at this juncture (he's nearly 80 yet in peak form here as composer and soloist), Without a Net is special even among the recordings made by this outstanding group.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek