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Lions Roar : July 2019
HE PLAYED AND WROTE for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet, and fusion supergroup Weather Report. He was John Coltrane’s jamming partner, later became Joni Mitchell’s key collaborator, and played that blazing solo on the title track of Steely Dan’s Aja. By last year, he had racked up twenty-five solo releases, including landmarks like 1965’s Speak No Evil and, thirty years later, High Life. In December, he was feted as a 2018 Kennedy Center honoree (along with fellow Buddhist and musician Philip Glass), and this year will see the release of the documentary Way n e Shorter: Zero Gravity. If anyone could rest on their laurels, it would be him. But that’s not the way of Wayne Shorter, a creator and communicator so unconventional that even as a fledgling bebop player in the 1950s, he was known among his peers as “Mr. Weird.” Being unusual works for him. So it’s no big surprise that, instead of just another new album, he’s released a triple album. And it comes with a graphic novel. Which he helped write. Titled Emanon—“no name,” backwards, in hom- age to a Dizzy Gillespie song—the physical-only release is a sprawling, lively work that marries jazz and classical instrumentation, showcasing Shorter’s considerable gifts for improvisation and composi- tion. If it isn’t a masterwork, I don’t know what is. And that’s not just me: Emanon has received rave reviews from NPR, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Rogue Philosopher The Life, Art, and Buddhism of Jazz Great WAYNE SHORTER. By Rod Meade Sperry Times, and on and on. And at the center of it all is a Buddhist superhero of sorts. EMANON’S ORIGIN STORY isn’t as thrilling as you’d hope with a creation of this magnitude. “We were going to make a record,” Shorter tells me, “and Blue Note Records president Don Was said, ‘Why don’t we put a graphic novel with it?’” A gimmick, maybe, but Was surely knew that his idea was a perfect fit for a lifelong comics nut like Shorter, who’d even written and drawn a full comic book back when he was a fifteen-year-old kid in Newark. But this time he would have help—from screenwriter Monica Sly and veteran comics artist Randy DuBurke. The graphic novel tells the tale of Emanon, a “rogue philosopher” who vanquishes supposed foes not through violence but by telepathically creating and conveying a sense of oneness with them. He does this not just on his home planet, but across time and space. In each new place he visits, from an alternate Earth where “men and women have no conception of a free society,” to other worlds “based on doctrines of submission and obedience,” Emanon only becomes more fearless and dedicated in his work to lead beings, human or otherwise, toward liberation and hope. The character’s talent for multiverse-hopping has up-to-the-moment sci-fi cachet, but it also feels like something more. Perhaps it’s Shorter’s device to help us get our minds around the notion of emptiness. (That’s not an easy concept to nutshell, but this pas- sage by the Zen teacher Dainin Katagiri is a fine start: PHOTOBYTHOMASDORN/VERVERECORDS LION’S ROAR | JULY 2019 59