For our second 180 gram vinyl record in the series of 100 titles that Blue Note are reissuing to celebrate the label’s 75th anniversary we are looking at Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. According to Blue Note President Don Was this album is particularly personal to him and one of his favourite releases from Blue Note. “It’s a little mysterious, particularly side two of the record. I bought it in the late 1960s when I was having some problems in my life and when I played Speak No Evil for the first time it made me feel like myself again, it restored balance to my life.” Such is the magic of music and especially Wayne Shorter[s fabulous album.
“I was thinking of misty landscapes with wild flowers and strange dimly lit shapes – the kind of places where folklore and legends are born. And then I was thinking of witch burnings too.” – Wayne Shorter, elaborating on his compositions for Speak No Evil, 1965
Shorter began recording this album in early November 1964 at Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio but the three tracks the band cut were all rejected for various reasons, and when he got back into the studio on Christmas Eve, Elvin Jones had taken over on drums from Billy Higgins. Jones had played on a handful of Blue Note sessions in the 1950s but during 1964 he was playing more regularly; the sense of swing he brought with him from Coltrane’s group is essential for this record.
‘Witch Hunt’ opens with a flurry of a fanfare from trumpeter, Freddie Hubbard and Shorter, then quickly settles into the theme of the piece. The empathy between the old Messengers is clear and the feel of the track is brighter than much of what follows. ‘Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum’ is darker in tone and conjures up the shadowy, mythicalworld that inspired Shorter to write this, and all the other compositions on the album.
The album’s title track is pure hard bop and is driven along with intensity by Shorter before Hubbard solos; all the while Herbie Hancock’s piano teeters on the edge of the avant-garde. It’s a heady mix that works superbly well and helps to justify the huge reputation that this album has built up over time. Despite its originality, the album attracted little attention on its release: Shorter was not as well regarded in 1965 when it was released as he was to become.
Perfectly juxtaposed with the title track, ‘Infant Eyes’ was written for the saxophonist’s baby daughter; her mother, Shorter’s wife, is the woman who appears on the front cover of the record (both photographed and designed by Reid Miles). This beautiful, tender ballad is followed by the gorgeous ‘Wild Flower’, which brings the record to a slow but intense close. The album appears to be precisely structured, with clearly defined sections, and Shorter clearly had the whole thing worked out. Perhaps this explains the reason for ditching earlier session; it simply failed to come up to the standards that Shorter demanded of himself and his band.