Speak No Evil was one of several albums Shorter recorded for Blue Note in 1964, his first year as a member of Miles Davis's mid-1960s quintet. The album is generally regarded as one of 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".Murray Horwitz stated in 2001 that "Speak No Evil is sort of a consolidation of Wayne Shorter's compositional excellence. It's so thorough and consistent and wide-ranging. It's almost a manifesto for his ideas. Those ideas were new 40 years ago, but they're still fresh today."Rough Guide author Ian Carr wrote it is "a classic album in terms of both composition and improvisation, and has been inspirational for many musicians".New York Times critic Ben Ratliff included the album in his publication Jazz: A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings stating that it offers "the first taste of a gnomic compositional style that would haunt jazz forevermore. [...] Just about everybody playing jazz born in the 1950s and after accepts it as a foundation."
Speak No Evil was initially released on LP in 1966, as BLP 4194 and BST 84194, and first released on CD in 1987. The first remastered version, supervised by Rudy Van Gelder, was released in 1999, with an alternative version of "Dance Cadaverous". A definitive remastered limited edition was issued in Japan on SHM-CD on October 23, 2013; just like many other recent Japanese Blue Note SHM-CDs, the recordings were remastered from scratch, improving on the Van Gelder mix. It also includes two alternate takes previously unissued. Finally, the colour palette of the cover, featuring a sky blue dominant, greatly differs from the RVG edition one (dark blue-violet), restoring the original vinyl palette.