Speak No Evil
|Speak No Evil|
|Studio album by Wayne Shorter|
|Recorded||December 24, 1964
Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs
|Genre||Post-bop, hard bop, modal jazz|
|Wayne Shorter chronology|
Speak No Evil is the sixth album by Wayne Shorter, recorded on 24 December 1964 and released on Blue Note in 1965. The music combines elements of hard bop and modal jazz. The cover shows Wayne Shorter's first wife, Teruka (Irene) Nakagami, whom he met in 1961.
Having employed a version of John Coltrane's "classic quartet" rhythm section on both of his previous albums for Blue Note, Shorter altered the configuration somewhat on Speak No Evil, suggesting the influence of his recent drafting into Miles Davis's "second quintet". Held over from the last session is Coltrane's drummer Elvin Jones; but newly arrived from Davis's band are, on piano and bass respectively, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter. Rounding out the quintet on trumpet is Freddie Hubbard, an associate of Shorter's from his days as musical director of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Hubbard was also, by 1964, a frequent collaborator of Hancock's. The lineup is very similar to the later VSOP quintet, with Elvin Jones instead of Tony Williams on drums.
Shorter brought six new compositions to the Christmas Eve session. According to Shorter (as quoted in Don Heckman's liner notes), in writing the material for this album he was "thinking of misty landscapes with wild flowers and strange, dimly-seen shapes — the kind of place where folklore and legends are born. And then I was thinking of things like witch burnings too." Fairy tales were also an inspiration: the bluesy "Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum" is titled after the trademark exclamation of the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk.
Generally, the material represents a return to "changes"-based hard bop, but combined with modal elements, after a period of predominately modal music (exemplified by JuJu). But the tone of the music is – appropriately for the often-macabre subject matter – rather dark and eerie.
Shorter said, "'Infant Eyes' was written when [my daughter] was an infant, she was about six months... it has repetitions at certain levels: a repetition, a sequence so many steps up, another repetition of the melody, another same shape", Shorter said. It's a gauzy hymn to Shorter's daughter, fairly similar to other contemporaneous Shorter ballads ("House of Jade"; "Iris").
The waltzing "Dance Cadaverous" was inspired, according to Shorter, by an old photograph of medical students about to start work on a body – but containing melodic echoes of Jean Sibelius's Valse triste, which Shorter would eventually perform.
The melody consisting mostly of perfect fourths, which outline quartal chords. At the time of the song's composition (and first recording, with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Herbie Hancock on piano, as well as Shorter), quartal harmony was beginning to gain popularity in "post-bop" jazz circles, under the particular influence of pianist McCoy Tyner. The piece opens with a heraldic horn fanfare.
"Wild Flower" is a jazz standard in waltz time. The composition is notable as one of the few standard jazz waltzes. Its jaunty, wistful melody evokes early Coltrane – especially in its deployment of a single melody line over a shifting harmonic base (vis, "Moment's Notice" on Blue Train). The long suspended rests at the ends of each melodic phrase typify Shorter's compositions and also those of Herbie Hancock (who played piano on the original version) and Lee Morgan (with whom Shorter had just worked on the latter's Search for the New Land.).
Though the album's ties to the avant-garde have sometimes been noted (as in the The Penguin Guide to Jazz, Allmusic.com), the tunes are quite rigidly and conventionally structured. Almost all of them begin with a brief written introduction, followed by one or two statements of long-lined theme, played in lockstep harmony by the two horns. All of the pieces follow the head-solo-head format, long a standard in bebop.
Shorter's laconic, austere soloing on Speak No Evil is in marked contrast to his earlier, grace-note-laden, Coltrane-derived style. Several of the other performers cue the emotional pitch of their performances to the leader's newfound terseness: several critics have noted that Jones, Carter and Hubbard are uncharacteristically low-key, although Hancock is mostly himself. Hubbard's contributions are in fact limited to four of the album's tracks; he lays out completely on "Infant Eyes", and appears only on the two statements of theme bookending "Dance Cadaverous". Neither Jones nor Carter perform solos on this album.
Speak No Evil was one of several albums Shorter recorded for Blue Note in 1964. At the same time, he was also active in Miles Davis's band, and so it is unlikely that Speak No Evil received any special attention at the time of its release. But the passage of time has led to the album being generally regarded as Shorter's finest, and also a highlight of the Blue Note catalogue. The Penguin Guide to Jazz selected this album as part of its suggested "Core Collection" calling it "by far Shorter's most satisfying record." Allmusic assigns the album five stars.
The acclaim has not necessarily been unanimous, though. Down Beat's website, for example, does not list Speak No Evil among its highlights of Shorter's career, and David Wilson of the website Wilson & Alroy's Record Reviews awards the album three stars out of five and describes it as "more or less standard bop" and "antiseptic next to mid-60s classics like Maiden Voyage or Out To Lunch."
Speak No Evil was initially released on LP in 1964 as BLP 4194 and BST 84194. It was first released on CD in 1986. A remastered version, supervised by Rudy Van Gelder, was released in 1998, featuring an alternate take of "Dance Cadaverous".
(All pieces written by Shorter)
- "Witch Hunt" 8:07
- "Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum" 5:50
- "Dance Cadaverous" 6:45
- "Speak No Evil" 8:23
- "Infant Eyes" 6:51
- "Wild Flower" 6.00
- "Dance Cadaverous" (alternate take) 6:35
Track 7 not part of original LP.
- Wayne Shorter — tenor saxophone
- Freddie Hubbard — trumpet
- Herbie Hancock — piano
- Ron Carter — bass
- Elvin Jones — drums