Wayne Shorter, our greatest living jazz composer, turned 80 in August. Endangered Species is the tribute he deserves, capturing much of the essential spirit of this sophisticated, allusive American original. The top-notch, full-scale band here is also known as Endangered Species, assembled by trumpeter David Weiss, a vibrant arranger who is nearly as humble as he is creative, a blend that enables him to take some liberties without disrespecting the integrity of Shorter’s songs. The group has played in various permutations for nearly a decade, but a week-long residency at Dizzy’s Club in Jazz at Lincoln Center last year enabled Weiss to compile a dazzling, dozen-strong lineup of established leaders and burgeoning talents. They play five Shorter songs (and one like-minded Weiss tune) that span nearly 50 years and average more than 11 minutes apiece — room enough for striking arrangements and magnificent solos.
With nine horns and a rhythm section, Weiss creates a malleable harmonic swirl among the brass and sax reminiscent of Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington as well as Shorter, especially on the atmospheric ballad “Fall” (first heard on Miles Davis’s “Nefertiti”). Endangered Species is book-ended by a pair of scintillating tracks brimming with memorable solos: The opener, and oldest Shorter original, “Nelly Bly,” features the relatively young Shorter acolyte Tim Green bouncing and burning on alto sax, followed by a propulsive romp from top-echelon jazz pianist Geri Allen backed by drummer E.J. Strickland. The closer, “Prometheus Unbound,” is a lengthy chamber-jazz suite that Shorter reworked from “Capricorn II” and played in duet with Herbie Hancock. It’s a glorious song that in this context seethes and ebbs in intensity, highlighted by an unbridled trumpet solo from Jeremy Pelt.
There’s much more to cherish here, including the sterling support provided by bassist Dwane Burno for Ravi Coltrane’s tenor spot on “Fall,” and the infectious spunk of Weiss’s “Turning Gate,” which takes its cue from Shorter’s “Joy Ryder” but is also a kindred spirit to Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland” from Weather Report. Suffice to say, Endangered Species is one of the best records, jazz or otherwise, of 2013.