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At this point, as if in the midst of one of his fiery solos, Shorter has built up an unquenchable head of steam. "What is music for besides entertainment, escape, going to the bank real fast, having a hit and all that stuff? I guess you could ask, what is anything for? Well, it opens the door to our eternal existence," he theorizes. "We're blind and deaf because of all these desensitizing elements and mechanisms that have invaded our planet through our own self-indulgence and our quest for monetary wealth. Some people wait to see life happening in a movie on the weekend. I believe that we should aim to make movies out of our own lives, for we are the director, producer, actor. We do the scoring, everything. To me, it sounds concrete. Other people, they say, 'Oh, you're thinking in pipe dreams; you're out there.' There's not too much room in this world for the dreamer."
Shorter then interrupts himself. "Wait a minute, breaking news: Martha Stewart arrives in federal court in New York. She's being indicted," he says, apparently watching TV while speaking on the phone. "Do you know how Martha Stewart spells soul?"
Can't say that I do.
No argument here. But Shorter has a remedy for Stewart's bourgeois ruthlessness: "I think she needs to speak with someone who's not infected with the material world," he advises. "She really has to speak with...I won't say a priest, but someone who can help her get in touch with her eternal self. She is an eternal, whether she knows it or not. What we're doing through music or art or writing or whatever is telling of the coming of the great, eternal adventure of life, through its great tragedies and great happinesses. But the indestructible happiness is to transcend all the temporary things like 'My phone just died!' or 'Somebody stole my girl!'" He croons the last four words as if they were the chorus of a corny pop song. "Even heavy tragedies like somebody very close to you dying, the kind that make you want to drive your car off a cliff or drink yourself to death, can be transcended."
"The intermissions of sleep and death, they're just bridges," he whispers.
The metaphysical breadth of Shorter's work is perhaps its most defining feature. From the spiritual resonance of the epochal Bitches Brew to the harmonious convergence of the V.S.O.P. Quintet, his gifts to jazz have made the art form both more adventurous and more accessible. His most popular and lucrative project remains Weather Report, formed right after he left the Miles Davis group in 1970. One of the few groups of the fusion era that didn't wind up degenerating into either fluffy disco-pop or gratuitous prog, Weather Report was an implement with which Shorter and pianist Joe Zawinul charted new territories of rhythm, electronics and mood. Shorter has also collaborated with Herbie Hancock on many albums over the years -- Shorter's innovative Adam's Apple and Hancock's funk opus Man Childbeing particularly stunning examples -- culminating in 1997's 1+1, an affable, even brotherly duet between these post-bop giants.
Some of Shorter's post-Weather Report work, though, has suffered from a little too much slickness and digitization. But his latest two albums -- 2002's Footprints Live!and this year's entrancing Alegria -- rekindle the hunger, urgency and acoustic warmth of his creative peak. Pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade seem to be telepathically linked to their leader; their intricate playing spins webs around Shorter's graceful, weightless lines, a single neural network of flashing synapses and pulsing emotion. The music, like Shorter himself, is at once earthy and otherworldly.
"Man, this is the joy of living. To be manifested as a human being is the greatest fortune ever in this thing called the ultimate entity. All the guys in the band, we're just trying to convey all of that joy in the music," Shorter concludes, sounding a bit like Yoda if he had come of age in the 1950s reading sci-fi pulps and listening to bebop records in Newark. "When we go on stage, the only thing we prepare for is to be vulnerable. We can't rehearse for anything. How the hell do you rehearse the unknown?"