Father’s Day and Baseball and Pullman Porters

I don’t have any pictures of my father to share, but I have stories. This is one I’m fond of.

In the late ‘60s, when my family still lived in Chicago, my father would often go into the office on Saturday morning as it enabled him to get stuff done without being bothered by his coworkers. Sometimes he took me with him. One Saturday when I was nine, I was about to accompany him to work and of course I was dressed like a miniature businessman in a suit and tie. My Dad was adding some polish to my “hard” shoes when he looked up and said “I don’t have anything pressing this weekend, let’s go to the ballgame instead!”

I was a big enough baseball obsessive to know that it was one of those rare weekends that neither the Cubs nor White Sox were in town, so I was perplexed and asked which ball game he had in mind. He told me that the Twins were playing the Senators and we had just enough time to get to Minneapolis to catch the game.

I thought I was pretty sharp for a nine year old, but I sure didn’t see that coming.

We went to the train station and bought tickets on a Milwaukee Road train to the Twin Cities. As a youth my Dad had ridden the trains alone frequently between Chicago where he lived and both Atlanta and Mississippi where his family was based. He learned to rely on the Pullman Porters for guidance and protection. This time he wanted to rely on them for stories. He chatted up several of the veteran porters and they regaled me with anecdotes about people I’d only heard of. Suddenly Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Satchel Paige came to life in their vivid recounting (actually Satchel became larger than life). We got to Minneapolis with just enough time to check into a hotel and race off to the ballpark. The game was great. My Dad wanted to insure that I saw all of the best players in person and the Twins at the time had perennial all-stars Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew, but he was especially interested in the Twins young second baseman Rod Carew who was having a stellar year. Carew sat out that game, in the end we didn’t mind. Killebrew hit a massive home run and the Twins, who were a championship contender, won handily.

Sunday morning we walked around the city in the morning then got a train back to Chicago. I don’t recall the porters being as talkative, though one told us a story about Willie Mays that jibed with his image of being humble and soft spoken.

I went to dozens of ball games with my father. In fact, when I was little we lived in Lake Meadows, a housing complex not that far from Comiskey Park, I have few memories of being at home with my Dad, but several of being at a White Sox game.   In fact, I may have been a budding foodie even then. As far as I was concerned, the difference between the Cubs and White Sox was that Comiskey Park had cotton candy, while Wrigley Field had individual pizzas with really good Italian sausage.

Yet none of my memories from the Chicago ballparks could top the journey to Minnesota.

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At The Root on Mikey Likes It Ice Cream

Artisanal Ice Cream from an ex-con on Avenue A.


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Ornette R.I.P.

I wrote on Ornette a lot, including beating lots of journos to the punch by previewing Sound Grammar in New York magazine before a lot of folks were aware of it. But this is my favorite. In the interview that produced exactly one quote, Ornette told lots of stories about L.A. in the ’50s and NYC in the early ’60s, but he was never nostalgic, he was eager for the shape of what would happen next.


Bluesy and Achingly Beautiful
Coleman’s ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ lived up to its title
By Martin Johnson
Updated April 18, 2009 11:59 p.m. ET

As years go, 1959 was a landmark for jazz recordings. Miles Davis created his “Kind of Blue” and John Coltrane made his “Giant Steps.” But the most influential jazz album made in 1959 came from Ornette Coleman, then an outcast in that musical community. It was called “The Shape of Jazz to Come.”

The record lived up to its title. Mr. Coleman’s innovations are often called “free jazz,” but that’s an oversimplification. While he did loosen the existing rules in an attempt to bring harmony, melody and rhythm into a more equal relationship within the music, Mr. Coleman was no finger-wagging modernist. Nor did he advocate musical anarchy (though to some ears his music still sounds like noise). He wanted to give musicians the freedom to play in accordance with the emotion of the tune, rather than limiting them to the notes and sequences dictated by chord changes, the progression of notes that create the harmonic structure of a song.
Ornette Coleman ENLARGE
Ornette Coleman Jimmy Katz

On “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” Mr. Coleman’s quartet made music that was bluesy and often achingly beautiful. His followers established an avant garde that has grown in the past half-century into one of the most consistently vital wings of jazz.

Back in 1959, Mr. Coleman seemed an unlikely source for one of the greatest jazz recordings of all time. He was playing sporadically in Los Angeles, where he moved from his native Fort Worth, Texas, earlier in the decade. Born in 1930, he had grown up with a group of likeminded innovators, such as the trumpeter Bobby Bradford and the clarinetist John Carter, who sought to open jazz’s harmonic structure to allow a deeper expression of the blues. These concepts met with an often hostile reception on the Texas jazz scene and within the L.A. mainstream.

Mr. Coleman was shunned at jam sessions in both places; one angry Texan broke his saxophone. Unable to make a living as a musician, Mr. Coleman took a variety of odd jobs, including elevator operator. But he found several allies in California. Trumpeter Don Cherry and bassist Charlie Haden met him and were excited by his innovations. Pianist John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet heard one of Mr. Coleman’s performances and persuaded Nesuhi Ertegun of Atlantic Records to sign him to a deal. Mr. Lewis thought that Mr. Coleman’s music was the first significant step forward in jazz since the advent of bebop in the early 1940s.
Tune In

Listen to clips from the influential 1959 album “The Shape of Jazz to Come” by Ornette Coleman:

Lonely Woman

Mr. Coleman is soft-spoken and rarely expresses rancor about his past. He recalled his West Coast stint during a telephone interview in December. “It was a very active jazz community,” he said. “There were a lot of good players in a variety of styles; it was very enjoyable to be a part of it.”

He had recorded twice in California, but both sessions compromised his ideas by matching him with conventional musicians. Atlantic Records gave him the chance to record with a trio of players who shared his convictions — Messrs. Haden and Cherry, as well as drummer Billy Higgins. The music they made still sounds astonishing and fresh today.

The recording opens with “Lonely Woman,” a ballad that has deservedly become a jazz standard. It doesn’t sound revolutionary, however. That comes on the next track, “Eventually,” an up-tempo number that features a soaring, jittery solo from Mr. Coleman that sounds exhilarating today but probably left many listeners bewildered 50 years ago. It’s followed by the sweet, reassuring “Peace,” another tune that has found its way into the repertoire of many jazz groups. The album’s remaining three tunes feature ensemble portions that are familiar and melodic yet highlighted by intoxicating solos that have little to do with the harmonic structure of the piece. Mr. Coleman’s quartet liberated jazz from some musical restraints, yet it made music that was urgent, compelling and accessible.
Ryan Inzana

“The Shape of Jazz to Come” was released in October 1959 and immediately created a firestorm in the jazz community. Miles Davis told Joe Goldberg, in his 1983 book “Jazz Masters of the ’50s” (Da Capo), “Just listen to what he writes and how he plays. The man is all screwed up inside.” Bassist Charles Mingus told Downbeat in 1960: “It’s like organized disorganization or playing wrong right. It gets to you emotionally like a drummer.”

Mr. Coleman and his bandmates moved to New York, and in November 1959 they made their debut at the Five Spot, one of Gotham’s most renowned jazz clubs. The intensity of the response in the New York jazz world made the gig one of the most famous in jazz history.

Although the performances intensified the vitriol of some of Mr. Coleman’s detractors, he said he was pleasantly surprised by the positive reception. Compared to what he normally encountered in Texas and Los Angeles, the New York naysayers amounted to a minor nuisance.

Coltrane and Sonny Rollins came to several shows, and both went on to make recordings with Coleman sidemen. (Mr. Coleman said that Coltrane even visited his house to play.) Many younger musicians began to build on Mr. Coleman’s style, and by 1963 a full-fledged jazz avant garde had formed.

The Five Spot engagement was originally scheduled to last two weeks; it was extended for 2½ months. “The Shape of Jazz to Come” sold extremely well, and a few months later Mr. Coleman released a disc whose title made it clear he was aware of his impact. The recording is called “Change of the Century.”

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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Why The Warriors Really Went Small

NBA-Basketball-07-08-SeasonMost of the chatter and analysis following the Golden State Warriors 103-82 Game 4 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Finals concerned coach Steve Kerr’s decision to go small, i.e. start a lineup without center Andrew Bogut. Instead the Warriors started five players between 6’7” and 6’3” and the results were compelling. In general, it was presented as a lineup that enabled the Dubs to increase the tempo, which was being played at a slow pace, much to the Cavaliers liking. The Cavs played at a pace of 94.8 possessions per game during the regular season and the Warrriors sped along at 100.7. The Finals games were even slower than the Cavs regular season plod. However, the pace of Game 4 represented only a slight uptick from games one through three. OTOH, there was a much bigger impact that I don’t see discussed; the Warriors smaller lineup enabled them to guard the three point line much more effectively. In Game 3 the Cavs torched the Warriors from deep, shooting 9 of 21. In Game 4, against a more agile, longer lineup with five players who could race out to the arc and disrupt the rhythm of the Cleveland gunners, the Cavs managed a meager 4 for 27. In each of the first four games, the team that has defended the three point shot best has won. This shouldn’t be a surprise. With the NBA game becoming more and more about shooting from deep (more than one in three shots are from behind the arc today, in contrast with one in five during the Jordan era), defending the long distance shot has become the priority of most top defenses. Wanna example? The Cavs (.296) and the Dubs (.306) are the leading teams in the postseason at stopping opponents from downtown. And the Warriors were one of the best teams during the regular season at stopping the three, holding opponents to .337.

So when commentators say that Golden State went small in Game 4 and played like themselves again, I think they mean perimeter defense, not pace.

Martin Johnson is a freelance writer.  He was an NBA columnist for the New York Sun from 2003 to 2008.

So when commentators say that Golden State went small in Game 4 and played like themselves again, I think they mean perimeter defense, not p

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At Eater on Collaborative Brewing


Collaborative Brewing Is Heating Up in the Beer World


More breweries are getting into the team spirit.

With more than 3,400 craft breweries now dotting the American landscape and dozens more joining the fray each year, there’s widespread competition in the field. And while beer rivalries are not unheard of, a much more positive trend of collaborative brewing is emerging. Many of the most interesting beers on the market today are a result of two or more breweries teaming up to produce one stellar beverage.

Retail buyers, bar managers, industry consultants and brewers all agree that cooperative brewing is a fast growing trend. Breweries working together to create a unique product “doesn’t happen on this level in any other alcoholic beverage” category, says Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association.

“Beer is, first and foremost, a convivial drink,” explains Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at New York’s Brooklyn Brewery and editor of The Oxford Companion to Beer. “So we are colleagues, brothers and sisters first, and competitors second.” California-based craft beer consultant Jen Schwertman added, “collaborations send a positive message to everyone, and they are a reminder of the comradery that the craft beer industry has historically been known for.”

Surprisingly though, many of the lauded beer collaborations were birthed from brewers with seemingly opposite specialties or approaches.

That amiable spirit is reflected in the roots of many beer projects. Ask an array of craft beer lovers from around the country to list their favorite joint brews and the answers stretch far and wide. Schwertman favors the Deep River from Knee Deep and Kern River Brewing Company, two California breweries known for their India Pale Ales. Cory Bonfiglio, the general manager of two New York City beer havens, Proletariat in Manhattan and Beer Street in Brooklyn, fondly recalls Gypsy Tears, a sour stout aged in Brunello barrels that was a collaboration between Stillwater, Mikkeller and Fanø. “At 8.5 percent, it was full bodied, though having been fermented entirely with brettanomyces [a wild yeast strain], there was an acidity present that provided a bit of levity in mouthfeel.” He also noted that six months in red wine barrels moderated the beer’s fluctuation between overtones of dark fruit, chocolate, earth, coffee and wood.

Surprisingly though, many of the lauded beer collaborations were birthed from brewers with seemingly opposite specialties or approaches. For instance, Schwertman champions the beers that have resulted from synergy between San Diego-based Green Flash Brewing Company and the 140-year-old Belgian St. Feuillien. Meanwhile, Brian Sturmke, the gypsy brewer (a brewer that brews beer in space rented from other breweries) behind the Stillwater brand, quickly named his project with Millstone Cellars, a Maryland-based cidery, as one of his favorites.

For most of these brewers, collaborations represent a ticket out of their comfort zones. And the beers that result from these co-helmed experiments usually yield brews atypical to each of the players’ established styles.  For example, Stillwater is best known as one of the premier American saison brewers, the lighter, zestier beers that were once produced as midday refreshment for Belgian farmhands. However, the brewery’s work with Millstone culminated in a uniquely complex cider. “We had been carrying their cider at my bar in Baltimore [Of Love & Regret] and they later asked about a collaboration and my first question was ‘Can we smoke the apples?’ because I never heard of doing that before and thought it would be a cool approach to making a cider.”


L-R: St.Feuillien brewmaster Alexis Bristol and Green Flash brewmaster Chuck Silva.

Ultimately they smoked the fruit over fresh juniper and applewood. “The idea was then to deconstruct my beer Debauched—brewed with whole juniper bushes, farmhouse ale yeast, brettanomyces and a touch of smoke—so it’s a blend of smoked apples, barrel fermented brett-forward cider, and a portion of dry-hopped cider.” The result, Stillwater/Millstone Remixed Debauched Cider, won high scores and raves from the crowd at ratebeer.com.

At Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, Missouri, beer collaborations have proved fruitful enough that each year the brewery chooses a different partner with which to pair up and create a new brew. Last year Boulevard teamed up with Ommegang on a spiced saison, while in 2013 they worked alongside Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project on a stingo-style beer called Collaboration No.3. In 2012 and 2011 they worked with Portland, Oregon’s lauded Deschutes and Belgian brewery Orval, respectively.

For most of these brewers, collaborations represent a ticket out of their comfort zones.

Yet no brewery has embraced the spirit of teamwork more than San Diego-based Green Flash. Their efforts with St. Feuillien have gone beyond three co-produced beers. The Belgians now brew Green Flash’s signature beer, West Coast IPA, at their facility in Le Roeulx, Belgium for European distribution. And this beer is the ultimate proof that opposites attract in the beer world. St. Feuillien is known for traditional yeasty and sometimes slightly sweet Belgian styles like Dubbels and Tripels, while Green Flash has made waves with its aggressively hoppy and sometimes bitter IPAs.

The relationship began in 2009 when St. Feuillien’s CEO Dominique Friart toured Green Flash’s San Diego facility and was impressive with the brewery’s meticulous approach. Eventually the two producers teamed up on Bière De L’Amitié, a Belgian Strong Ale brewed in Belgium with American Amarillo hops. The beer was warmly received when it debuted in March 2010. Two years later they followed up with Friendship Brew, a Black Saison made with St. Feuillien’s secret spice combination. In 2013 they released their third work, Belgian Coast IPA.

“As brewing partners, we have always been humbly enthusiastic to learn from one another,” says Green Flash brewmaster Chuck Silva, when describing the evolution of his rapport with St.Feuillien brewmaster Alexis Briol. “This mutual respect allows us, as international counterparts, to find common ground.”

The Green Flash-St. Feuillien endeavor represents the next level of brewery teamwork and set the stage for partnerships like Nya Carnegiebryggeriet, a new brewery in Stockholm from Brooklyn Brewery and several Swedish partners. Nya Carnegiebryggeriet will create beers that weave together both American and Scandinavian traditions.

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At WSJ on Lines of Color by the Gil Evans Project


‘Lines of Color: Live at Jazz Standard’ Review: A Jazz Master’s Long Lost Arrangements Come to Life

Ryan Truesdell and the Gil Evans Project unearth forgotten arrangements by the great bandleader and composer, giving them a second life on ‘Lines of Color: Live at Jazz Standard.’

The Gil Evans Project performing at Jazz Standard last week. ENLARGE
The Gil Evans Project performing at Jazz Standard last week. Photo: Marc Santos

Six years ago composer and arranger Ryan Truesdell began a research project into the archives of Gil Evans (1912-1988), the great jazz bandleader, arranger and composer. The results of this personal obsession have become a thriving career. Mr. Truesdell, who is now 35, had been a fan of the jazz great since his teens, and he studied Evans’s music as a student at the New England Conservatory of Music. He approached the Evans family and gained access to his manuscripts. During his perusal, Mr. Truesdell began finding arrangements that had never been performed.

For any fan of orchestral jazz, this was a Life-on-Mars level discovery. His employer at the time (whom he occasionally still works for on a project-to-project basis), the composer and bandleader Maria Schneider, an Evans protégée, encouraged him to form a band and record the music. He created the Gil Evans Project in 2011 and their recording, “Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans” (ArtistShare, 2012), stunned the jazz world. It was nominated for three Grammy Awards in 2013 and won one for Best Instrumental Arrangement for the song “How About You.”

The timing of Mr. Truesdell’s undertaking couldn’t have been better. Evans’s influence can be heard both directly and indirectly throughout the current jazz scene. Ms. Schneider’s orchestra, which employs many of the same musical innovations that Evans did—an impressionistic sound, unusual harmonies and unique instrumentation—has become one of the leading groups in jazz. Darcy James Argue leads a big band called Secret Society, which has won praise for its two Evans-influenced recordings, and earlier this year Mr. Argue was the recipient of both a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and Guggenheim Fellowship.

Evans is a cornerstone figure in jazz—arguably the most important arranger of postwar jazz—but he never sought fame, unlike Miles Davis, with whom he collaborated on essential albums such as “Birth of the Cool” (Capitol, 1957), “Porgy and Bess” (Columbia, 1959) and “Sketches of Spain” (Columbia, 1960). Evans’s arrangements changed the big-band sound from hefty bursts of horns into nuanced and unique sonorities. His openness to innovation led him to arrange bebop tunes for big bands, when the genre was still new and controversial. He welcomed free jazz rebels by showcasing the Cecil Taylor Unit on the recording “Into the Hot” (Impulse!, 1962), and he arranged songs by rock guitar god Jimi Hendrix for the album “The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix” (RCA, 1974).

Following warm reception received by “Centennial,” Mr. Truesdell continued to peruse the Evans manuscripts. On a few occasions, he’d call the descendants of Evans collaborators and discover additional arrangements that were either never or rarely performed. He has culled six newly discovered works, two arrangements with sections that were never publicly performed and three better known pieces into a recently released album, “Lines of Color: Live at Jazz Standard” (Blue Note/ArtistsShare).

The recording features several top-echelon musicians on the New York scene who form an impressive unit: among the highlights are solos by saxophonist Steve Wilson, trombonist Ryan Keberle, pianist Frank Kimbrough and drummer Lewis Nash. It moves from big, bold sounds to feathery, light ones with astonishing grace and poise. Songs like “Davenport Blues” are big and flamboyant, while others like “Concorde” are complex and sublime.

Last week Mr. Truesdell brought the 24-member Gil Evans Project back to the Jazz Standard in New York to celebrate the new recording, and the band highlighted the ingenuity of the arrangements. For instance, on “Smoking My Sad Cigarette,” which is on the first recording, vocalist Wendy Gilles is backed by bass clarinet, bassoon, alto flute, piccolo, bass trombone, trombone, plus a piano, bass and drum rhythm section. Rather than sound precious or forced, the sinuous arrangement and unusual instrumentation enhanced the melancholy mood of the song. The music evoked the ’40s and ’50s, when many of the arrangements were written, but the solos were straight out of 2015 with canny dissonances and postmillennial stylings.

Unfortunately the economics of jazz have prevented Mr. Truesdell from making this band a touring unit. However, his work has made him the pre-eminent Evans-ologist in the world. For instance, in July he will travel to Rotterdam, Netherlands, and perform Evans’s music with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra at the North Sea Jazz Festival.

During the final decade of his life, Evans led a big band that performed every Monday night at a New York jazz club. It isn’t too much to hope that Mr. Truesdell gets a similar opportunity 30 years later. This music deserves frequent and regular performances.

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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At WSJ On Sound Prints, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas and Wayne Shorter


‘Sound Prints: Live at Monterey Jazz Festival’ Review

A short—but impressive—live recording from saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas

Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano perform in London in 2014. ENLARGE
Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano perform in London in 2014. Photo: Andy Sheppard/Redferns/Getty Images

For nearly two decades, saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas have been two of the leading figures in the contemporary jazz scene, and their career arcs are parallel. Both have built and maintained a mainstream following while frequently exploring the outer edges of jazz. Yet until recently, they have rarely played together. Mr. Douglas played on Mr. Lovano’s 2001 recording, “Flights of Fancy: Trio Fascination: Edition Two” and both men were briefly members of the SFJAZZ Collective in the late ’00s when that repertory group performed music by such jazz greats as the pianists Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner and the saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

Four years ago, Messrs. Douglas and Lovano formed a quintet called Sound Prints; the name is a variation on Mr. Shorter’s signature composition, “Footprints.” Unlike the SFJAZZ Collective, Sound Prints did original compositions, often inspired by those in Mr. Shorter’s vast catalog. For Mr. Douglas, who is 52 years old, this is familiar territory; “Stargazer” (Arabesque, 1997) took a similar approach to the saxophonist’s music. For Mr. Lovano, who is 62, Mr. Shorter’s complex yet accessible rhythms are a cornerstone influence in both his playing and his composing.

At age 81, Mr. Shorter is still making music and testing jazz’s boundaries. “Without a Net” (Blue Note, 2013) was widely hailed as one of that year’s best. When he toured in 2011, he invited Sound Prints to be the opening band. Before their gig at Town Hall in 2013, he gave them two compositions written for their band, and those two are at the center of “Sound Prints: Live at Monterey Jazz Festival,” recorded in Sept. 2013 and released last month by Blue Note Records. Sound Prints is touring the East Coast this week, with engagements at Washington’s Blues Alley on Tuesday and Wednesday, Boston’s Scullers Jazz Club on Thursday and New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center on Friday and Saturday.

The quintet’s configuration—trumpet, tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums—recalls two of Mr. Shorter’s more storied associations, the edition of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers that featured both Mr. Shorter and trumpeter Lee Morgan from 1959 to 1961 and the edition of the Miles Davis Quintet of the mid-’60s. Perhaps not coincidentally, Sound Prints not only has textures that recall the Davis ensemble’s, but ambitious, knotty horn lines like those that highlighted the Blakey band.

The music on “Sound Prints: Live at Monterey Jazz Festival” is diverse, abstract and yet highly accessible, though at only six tracks and 51 minutes it feels short for a live album. The recording opens with “Sound Prints,” a composition by Mr. Lovano that neatly catalogs many of the elements of Mr. Shorter’s music that the band deftly captures. There are quick-witted, concise solos by the co-leaders; urgent, changing rhythms by bassist Linda Oh; probing, elegant solos by pianist Lawrence Fields; and show-stopping, cantankerous percussion by drummer Joey Baron. By contrast, Mr. Douglas’s “Sprints” is an appropriately up-tempo number that Mr. Baron and Ms. Oh drive at a furious but confident pace.

The two pieces by Mr. Shorter, “Destination Unknown” and “To Sail Beyond the Sunset,” are strikingly dissimilar. The first rides a series of unusual rhythms as the leaders create scintillating and athletic solos. “Sunset” begins wistfully but builds impressively to a moment where all five musicians are playing distinctive yet complementary lines. At a mere 93 seconds and highlighted by a horn duet, Mr. Lovano’s “Weatherman” practically functions as a lead-in for Mr. Douglas’s “Power Ranger,” a midtempo piece that features propulsive rhythms and pithy solos.

Although short, the recording is impressive in several ways. For one, this ensemble doesn’t sound like a side project, though each of the members is involved in bands that occupy more of their time. There’s an ensemble unity throughout and a sense of spontaneity, even on the Shorter tunes. The tight, intuitive playing of the band liberates it from the mustiness that often accompanies tribute efforts—and that is so appropriate for Mr. Shorter’s music and spirit. He is always pushing toward new and innovative sounds for small-group jazz, and this band reflects those ambitions nicely.

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

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