The Imani Winds quintet began the concert with Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Quinteto em Forma de Choros,” a laughing and sharply contoured piece whose revolving series of moods served as a miniature model for the rest of the evening’s performance. Next came the New York premiere of Shorter’s “Terra Incognita,” commissioned in 2006 by the La Jolla Music Society. Its singing, mournful melodies, and occasional sputtering outbursts, reflected the playing of Shorter himself.
The highlight of the piece was a middle section during which each instrument played rapid and angular gestures, each improvised in terms of its rhythmic placement, as there was no determinable pulse. The disoriented, mysterious mood dissipated after a short-lived ostinato in the bassoon and horn. Both devices are common in Shorter’s music.
When Shorter’s quartet took the stage, the initial duet between Patitucci and Perez stayed planted in the same territory where “Terra Incognita” left off, with Perez creating pleasant but fragile harmony as Patitucci bowed a bouncy melody with delicate precision, matching that of the Imani Winds. Shorter’s entrance, with an unsettled and airy tone, gave the impression that it was his first time playing, something that was true in a sense, as the goal of his quartet is to create music that is entirely new with each and every performance.
This style, which injects structured ensemble playing with elements of free jazz, allows the group to explore moods and colors that are perhaps inaccessible to the more conventional small jazz ensemble. But it has restrictions of its own. During the first 15 minutes of the set, which contained loose versions of “Zero Gravity” and “Sanctuary,” the band seemed to be caught in a rut, cycling through brief periods of two moods: stately and confident, and then deliberately meager and disoriented. Later, however, the quartet broke out of the cycle, sustaining moods for longer, and developing unpredictable and compelling contours.
Shorter, who turned 75 this year, proved that his creative talents are as strong as ever. His current music draws from his previous work, as well as from the expansive musical territory that lies ahead.