The Alternative Universe of Wayne Shorter's "Emanon"

Darkness into Light, Evil into Good, Ugliness into Beauty, Ignorance into Knowledge, Confusion into Certainty, deliverance from oppression (and the other way around) and simultaneous alternative realities are familiar transformative comic book and biblical themes (Shorter is a known comic book fan; not sure about his biblical proclivities).

All play parts in Wayne Shorter’s sprawling superhero musical fantasy soundtrack extravaganza “Emanon” (no name in the mirror), which is firmly rooted in the 20th century classical music of Copland and Stravinsky among others and in a few of Shorter’s late 20th century jazz compositions repurposed here (“The Three Marias”, “Pegasus”, “Lost” and “Orbits”) along with new ones.

Of course, you’re free to listen and unleash your own imagination as you absorb the richly cinematic music that swirls together improv jazz and scored classical. If you’re a film score fan you can easily hear and “see” scene transitions—fade ins and outs, quick cuts and action-based rhythmic and percussive explosions.

But in case your imagination is unable to see (and hear) beyond the literal because it’s stifled and locked into the same DEPRAVED, frozen “numb reality” as the unfortunate citizens of Ypnos, whose plight is described and illustrated in the accompanying super hero comic book story board to a movie that’s not likely to ever be made, well you have that story boarded movie to deliver you from mental stagnation! And if the kaleidoscopic music and evocative sci-fi visuals by Randy DuBurke, (which to me appear to have been at least in part inspired by the late French artist Jean Giraud (A/K/A Moebius) don’t arouse you, there’s always that hit of acid you hid in your bureau after Woodstock.

The Wayne Shorter Quartet performs the two plus hours of music accompanied for the first half hour or so by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The quartet and orchestra perform in the studio the turbulent “Pegasus”, “Prometheus Unbound”, “Lotus” and the contemplative “The Three Marias”. The quartet (Shorter, Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade) performs live in London “The Three Marias”, “Lost and Orbits Medley”, “Lotus”, “She Moves Through the Fair”, “Adventures Aboard the Golden Mean” and “Prometheus Unbound”.

The novella, written by screenwriter Monica Sly and Wayne Shorter, presents the “super hero” Emanon as a “rogue philosopher” who becomes an “action hero” whose power is “unleashed” by necessity. He forms a “RESISTANCE” movement. The seeds of peace are borne (appropriately) by a lotus flower, Emanon arrives on the Planet Logokrisia, a “one world reality” ruled by an empowered few (not including Wilbur Ross).

Here the futuristic story takes a decidedly appropriate 20th century turn as Emanon, who is inciting a ‘public “wake up call” makes his way into a “print warehouse” and at the push of a button publishes an enlightened story headlined “The Multiuniverse Exists” in the print newspaper “the failed” 3 Marias!

Okay, “the failed” is my editorializing, the point being the comic book story is, like the music, sufficiently open-ended for you to put your own spin upon it using your own imagination, which will surely be expanded by both listening and looking (or by the leftover blotter). Esperanza Spalding’s Foreward presents the best advice: “As rich as these visual and sonic renderings are, to see and hear them only would squash the breadth of all they contain.”

The orchestral performances are impressive and majestic but I found the 3rd LP and CD’s fiery live quartet performances (perhaps that’s why the 3rd LP jacket, and 3rd LP and CD labels are a fiery orange?) the most exciting, with Shorter not just Prometheus unbound.

The packaging, presentation and sound are all superlative. Contained within an LP sized slip case are the 3 LPs mastered by Bernie Grundman and pressed at RTI, the smaller die-cut heavy cardboard book(let) composed of separate sections that are bound together with a minimalist section of gauze-tape that leaves unbound and visible the individual sections, within which are the 3 CDs. The smaller booklet slides into an appropriately sized compartment. If this booklet doesn’t win the Grammy for packaging, I cannot begin to imagine what might top it.

The recorded sound, both in the studio and live, by Rob Griffin and Todd Whitelock is spectacularly transparent, dynamic and three-dimensional and Griffin’s mix is flawless and endlessly tasteful. The musically and sonically spectacular finale of “Prometheus Unbound” will set you free.

No wonder the L.A. and Orange County Audio Society awarded this its first ever ARYA (Audiophile Recording of the Year Award)."

Other than misspelling the word “obedience” as “obediance” Emanon is a flawlessly conceived, recorded and produced package that at one time, not that long ago, I would have thought could only exist in an alternative universe where vinyl records ruled. It took the courage of a Pegasus to take action, but here we are! You can now stream Emanon, but to me that’s like watching pornography instead of making love.

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TapeTech's picture

Thanks for the review! Not that it matters that much, but do you know if the LPs were cut from digital files? I hope we are now at the point where LPs don't HAVE to be "pure analog" to sound great.

J. Carter's picture

I would be shocked if this was anything but digital given that it was recorded last year. My only hope is that they used something higher resolution then what is available on HDTracks given the extremely high cost of the vinyl version of this set. I couldn't justify the cost difference between the CD and LPs and definitely wouldn't even consider it if the masters are 24/44.1 like they are on HDTracks.

Michael Fremer's picture
Yes. Hi rez digital
audiotom's picture

Michael So wonderful to read your review of Wayne's latest.
80+ and still going strong

As for all analog or digital - this recording is luscious whatever the source.
Those who like this would really enjoy Brian Blade or Danilo Perez ' records

bvanpelt's picture

This is a weird collection. 3 CDs and 3 LPs. Why not just do 3 SACDs? You are forced to buy only this whole collection, or just 3 CDs. Now, there are SACD Blue Notes, I have plenty of them. Why not do that here? I suspect it would sound almost identical to the vinyl (except for those with rigs like Mr. Fremer). For myself, DSD is transparent to the source.