In honor of the upcoming holiday this Monday, I thought I’d highlight something a little peculiar (spooky?). Besides its titular connection to the ubiquitous late October character, “Witch Hunt” has some interestingly eerie musical elements. I know compared some of the other music I’ve written about here, Wayne Shorter’s “Witch Hunt” is fairly “regular” post-bop. It has a straight-ahead arrangement, features traditional jazz timbres, and isn’t overtly dissonant. In 2011, this is not too experimental. However, in 1964, when Wayne Shorter’s quintet recorded Speak No Evil – the album that opens with “Witch Hunt,” – they were known primarily for playing Coltrane-esque modal jazz. Speak No Evil was actually a major stylistic departure for the group; it marks a move towards harmonic hard bop, with more expressive, simpler playing.
Furthermore, while most Western harmony (jazz or otherwise) is based on stacked thirds, “Witch Hunt” emphasizes the traditionally dissonant interval of the fourth in its melody and harmony. The fourths give the melody and Shorter’s solo unexpected angular and otherworldly qualities. Herbie Hancock’s comping expresses the darker qualities of these complex harmonic structures as well. Underneath all that, Elvin Jones and Ron Carter provide a dynamic canvas for the other musicians. And Freddie Hubbard’s solid trumpet lines cannot be ignored.
To get the complete effect, turn your headphones up and your lights down. Enjoy Wayne Shorter’s “Witch Hunt.”