The Weird Shorter Brothers

Wayne Shorter
Moto Grosso Feio
Blue Note : rec. 1970

WS, tenor and soprano sax; Chick Corea, marimba, drums, percussion; Ron Carter, cello, bass; John McLaughlin, 12-string guitar; Dave Holland, acoustic guitar, bass; Michelin Prell, drums, percussion.

Chilly Jay Chill: The sheer weirdness of Wayne Shorter’s music is criminally underappreciated. Most people tend to slide off its sleek surfaces and neglect the strange harmonies, oblique phrasings, unexpected interplay of instruments. Even his most famous tunes are more about hints, absences, and evasions than outright riffs and melodies. They are well-appointed black holes, so smoothly conjured that you can miss the void altogether.

For me, Moto Grosso Feio was the rosetta stone I needed to fully get Wayne. It was raw and full of crags, a raging hothouse of overlapping textures, the weirdness flushed out into the open and almost impossible to miss. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t released — despite the crazy all-star ensemble! — until 15 years after it was recorded and why it’s no longer in print today. But I swear it’s the man’s masterpiece and not just because it’s his most overtly “out” album.

I mean, check out the loping groove on “Montezuma” the stabbing saxophone feints and parries, the Brazilian feel created by the roiling rainforest of marimba, percussion, cello, and guitars. Yeah, rainforest. An overused metaphor but one that could’ve been devised solely to describe these songs.

I mean, the album title doesn’t refer to an Amazonian jungle for nothing. A jungle where nine nuns vanished and were never found.

I mean, how about Michelin Prell practically upstaging the entire Hall of Fame line-up around her. Whatever happened to that mademoiselle?

Alan Shorter
Verve : 1968

AS, flugelhorn, trumpet, tambourine; Charlie Haden, bass; Gato Barbieri, tenor sax; Muhammad Ali, drums; Rashied Ali, drums.

Prof. Drew LeDrew: Alan Shorter’s brother’s nickname was Weird Wayne. One can only imagine what this means for trumpeter Alan, who comes down to us as the odder Shorter brother. Or the other Shorter brudder. Or both. He doesn’t have too many recorded dates to his name, but when he showed up, interesting things always happened. Had a certain x-factor, like a super-potent Bob Nastanovich. (A comparison that shorts Shorter, perhaps, but stay with me.) He shares his brother’s gift for writing long melodic lines. The stately “Joseph” is three minutes or so of insistently rising waves of sound, the sort of cut that leaves you listening to the room tone long after the song ends. Barbieri’s sax is relatively restrained, and Haden keeps things humming on the low end. It’s demonstrably “jazz,” but jazz that takes the shape of a question mark, not it’s usual punctuational position.

This album was produced by Esmond Edwards, who I believe was at Verve at the time, but whose influence on the jazz world, both sonic and graphic, was inescapable for about three decades.

Speaking of Verve, you can actually buy Orgasm as a download. See the Verve page here, or go right to the RealNetworks store.

CONSUMER UPDATE [MARCH 07]: See also Orgasm at iTunes.

Category Alan Shorter, Wayne Shorter

10 Responses to The Weird Shorter Brothers

  1. hi there,
    a little word about the misterious drummer in this wayne shorter session, there is no boubt he’s hiding behind a pseudo, for micheline Presle is the name of a french actress of the 60’s/70’s.
    one should investigate on this, and cool tune by the way!

  2. Thanks for the tip! We’ll do some investigating and see what we can turn up. The performance is so good throughout the entire album that it makes sense that it wasn’t by a complete unknown.

  3. Orgasm is a favorite of mine (always has been)–terrific outside material in an ESPish vein. Issue, though–I always thought that the Ali brothers played separately on the album (split between two sessions–Muhammad and Charlie, Rashied and Reggie Johnson, IIRC).

  4. Thanks for the note, Epistrophy. You are probably right; I don’t really hear two drums on this track. I’ll have to dig a little deeper to figure out which rhythm section is on “Joseph,” though.

  5. Thanks for putting this out. I never heard Alan play but I did meet the dude. He was stone crazy. Seemed like from further out than where Sun Ra claimed to be from.

  6. Micheline Prell aka Micheline Pelzer was the daughter of Belgian saxophonist Jacques Pelzer. There’s an interview with her on the What Music label’s site ( for their resissue of the Open Sky Unit lp (not the Dave Liebman group). She specifically mentions how she came to play on the Moto Grosso Feio session:

    “Back in Belgium I then had a few concerts under my own name with a trio comprised of Johnny Dyani on bass and Mongezi Feza on trumpet, and I asked my father to join us for that ‘free adventure’. In 1969 we opened for Miles Davis at the Liege Festival. That evening, Wayne Shorter heard the group and asked me to come to NY to record with him.

    “I arrived in New York in December 1969 and then recorded Wayne’s Blue Note LP “Moto Grosso Feio” in April 1970 with Chick Corea, Dave Holland, John McLaughlin, Ron Carter and Miroslav Vitous. New York was a big shock for me; I’ve never felt such strong vibrations anywhere else. I think that every jazz musician in the world must go to N.Y. at least once in their lifetime, as it is the foremost jazz town in the world.

    “When I arrived there I was invited to a 3 storey house on 19th St. and 7th Ave. Chick Corea lived on the 1st floor, Dave Holland on the 2nd and Dave Liebman on the 3rd. Liebman opened his place for rehearsals and jam sessions everyday – so many musicians passed by that I cannot remember them all! Very often I jammed with Bennie Maupin, Steve Grossman, Richie Beirach and Chick Corea. Living in N.Y. was the richest experience of my life – when I returned from the U.S., Belgium seemed sad to me!!”

    That Open Sky Unit lp is a good one, by the way,

  7. Beautiful. Thanks for the full story, nickj. Dyani, Feza, Wayne & Co….she kept some amazing company for a lesser-known.

  8. that’s the second time i come across wayne shorter today…it must mean something. i just read TBPs post on wayne shorter’s article in a 1968 downbeat…very interesting cat. thanks for this post, i’ve never really gotten into shorter, like you say i “slid off of those sleek surfaces” but maybe life is telling me i should check him out. the montezuma track is rad and damnit i’m glad the drummer is a woman. i will play this for the next ultra macho jazz musician i run into. thanks

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