Friday, June 3, 2016

Progress and challenges to evaluate environmental and climate change policies

Keynote speech at the Seminar on Implementing Climate Change Policy Evaluation National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC), Mexico, May 25, 2016 Progress and challenges to evaluate environmental and climate change policies - Dr. Juha I. Uitto, Director, Independent Evaluation Office of the Global Environment Facility
Ladies and gentlemen, It is a great honor to have been invited as keynote speaker to this impressive gathering on Implementing Climate Change Policy Evaluation. Needless to say, this topic is very close to my heart. It is also a pleasure to attend this conference in the fascinating and bustling Ciudad de Mexico. Climate change is one of the most complex contemporary challenges facing humankind. Its complexity stems from the fact that it is linked with virtually all sectors and areas of human activity. Addressing climate change is therefore not only a matter of technological solutions or dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change calls for integrated solutions that encompass the social, economic and political alongside the environmental and technical. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN member states in September 2015 recognize this . The SDGs all take a holistic approach incorporating the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development. The Global Environment Facility has mapped its work on climate change against the SDGs. While the SDG 13 is explicitly concerned with climate action, our work on climate change is also relevant to several other goals, which have direct linkages to societal factors, including goal 5 (Gender Equality), 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure) and 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) . Unlike their predecessor Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs are universally applicable to all countries. Also unlike the MDGs, evaluation has been built into the SDGs, which goes beyond monitoring and indicators. Evaluation can help countries and the international community to understand why progress towards the achievement of the goals is taking place or what are the hindrances along the way. There is a need to mobilize national data systems and to set up M&E that enable reporting on the SDGs and that at the same time serve national needs and perspectives. Mexico is a large country with a great variability of situations when it comes to geography and natural conditions, as well as levels of economic development. Mexico’s development has been rapid and it is now an advanced industrialized country. The UN analyses place Mexico in the high human development category . As everywhere, such rapid industrialization and economic development puts strains on the environment. Mexico is in the top dozen countries in the world when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Population and income growth, as well as urban sprawl and reliance on private automobiles all contribute to the growth in emissions. OECD recognizes the efforts made in the recent years in giving high political priority to battling climate change and protecting the environment . This event is proof of that and focuses on the important topic of the role of evaluation in ensuring that policies tackling climate change are effective.
Evaluation of climate change responses faces specific challenges. Some are generic to the environmental arena , while others pertain to the very nature of climate change. Basic issues pertaining to evaluating environmental actions in general include the fact that environmental phenomena tend to involve long time horizons. The projects and programs we set up are usually time-bound. They may set in motion processes that we hope will lead to environmental outcomes at a later stage, but this often happens only long after the project is gone. Similarly, environmental phenomena often have different geographical scales than the human systems within which we operate. Watersheds cross jurisdictional boundaries – often even international borders; water both above and below ground flows across human set administrative units; fish and wildlife do not care about jurisdictional boundaries; pollution is carried by rivers and, especially, by air from one place to another often across long distances. Climate is typically a global common . It is influenced by anthropogenic factors, which are localized, but the effects are global. Economic activities – energy use, transport, industry, agriculture, deforestation – that cause climate change bring profits to those engaging in them, at least in the short term. Sadly, the brunt of the costs of climate change accrue primarily to the poor countries and poor people who contributed little to the problem in the first place. These factors – long time horizons, differing geographical scales, impacts occurring in places other than the sources – all complicate evaluation of environmental phenomena. Climate change has added further complications to these issues because of the uncertainties associated with it. Even the best climate models are unable to accurately predict what will happen and the lower one gets on geographical scale the larger the uncertainties. There are discontinuities and tipping points, but we cannot be sure where they are. The Paris Agreement that has just recently been ratified by countries set the limit of warming at 2oC beyond which scientists believe the consequences will be uncertain. The frequently used shorthand, global warming, is misleading, as climate change appears to lead to increased variability in weather and different effects in different geographical areas. About half of Mexico’s territory is either desert or semi-desert with very limited freshwater resources. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that warming in the high mountain areas could lead to less snow and ice, which could affect river flows and subsequently further reduce water availability . IPCC further predicts, with high confidence, that increased temperatures will reduce crop yields, including those of maize and wheat, by shortening the crop cycle. These are significant risks. Therefore, climate change policies and programs – as well as their evaluation – must deal explicitly with risk and uncertainty . These challenges are further exacerbated by data and information gaps. As multiple factors contribute to climate change, it is also difficult to isolate the effects of particular interventions. We may try to curb emissions from transport or industry, or stop deforestation and transformation of forests into pastures for cattle, all of which will make contributions towards the fight against climate change. But can we really attribute any observed changes in climate to these programs? This is definitely hard, especially given that the actions to mitigate climate change are dwarfed by the environmentally destructive practices. The 5th Overall Performance Study of the GEF brought this into focus . While the total funding to global environmental issues is estimated at US$10 billion per year (of which the GEF stands for about US$1 billion), the needs would be in the range of US$100 billion. On the other hand, just subsidies to environmentally destructive practices – including fossil fuels and industrial agriculture – amount to some US$1 trillion annually. This does not mean that attempts to control emissions through policies, programs and projects is futile. On the contrary, we need to do it and continue intensifying our efforts. What it means, though, is that we also must strengthen our M&E systems and our evaluation approaches so that we know better whether our efforts are effective and that we are able to learn from the past and focus our work on those approaches that have greatest potential. My office, the Independent Evaluation Office of the GEF, conducted an impact evaluation of climate mitigation projects funded by the GEF a couple of years ago . Mexico was one of the four countries covered in the evaluation because the major emerging market economies are particularly important for the climate change mitigation potential. The evaluation found that the projects that were particularly successful in demonstrating progress towards impact were those, which had adopted comprehensive approaches to address market barriers and specifically targeted supportive policy frameworks.
So how can evaluators address such daunting challenges? I believe there are major opportunities and solutions but we have to strengthen the approaches and methodologies we use. Theory-based approaches to evaluation will still be useful, but they must be sensitive to the fact that linear models of causality may not be valid. We need to start by understanding the system boundaries, the components of the system, their relationships and the emergent properties when we design our evaluations . How do we do that? In the first place, it is important to be aware of what science tells us, so a good evaluation should start by a review of pertinent scientific literature on the topic. Based on this understanding, we can construct the theory of change that will serve as a hypothesis of how causality works in the particular context of the evaluand at hand. This hypothesis is then to be tested and the theory of change updated as needed in light of data and as our understanding of the evaluand increases. We also must use our data collection and analysis methods based on the questions that we pose and the situation in which we evaluate. The form must follow function. Some evaluators and researchers believe that only experimental and quasi-experimental methods, such as randomized control trials, yield reliable evaluative evidence. This is a fallacy. Such quantitative methods have their place in evaluation, but their applicability is limited. They can best be used in evaluating narrow interventions where counterfactuals and control groups can be identified in a clear manner. Even in medicine, RCTs are used only as one step in a rigorous and extensive research and testing process. Similarly, in sustainable development evaluation they can only be part of the solution and a relatively small at that. We need to employ a variety of methods, both quantitative and qualitative, to address the complex issues related to climate change. And I come back to the need for integrated, holistic perspectives. It is not possible to evaluate climate change in isolation focusing only on mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. We must deal with the drivers of climate change and environmental degradation. Issues such as urbanization and population growth, land use change, deforestation and carbon sequestration are key factors driving climate change and we must therefore focus on them. These in turn have close linkages to societal factors, such as economic and social development, poverty, inequality, politics and power relations. Climate change is inherently political and economic. All interventions, whether policies, programs or projects, must operate in the political and economic arena. Similarly, evaluations must be cognizant about and deal with these issues as well. Most often, the interventions operate at the level of addressing societal issues, developing policies, creating incentives or disincentives that we hope will lead to more sustainable behaviors, influencing consumption and production patterns. Evaluation must thus focus on these intermediate outcomes to help understand the intended and unintended consequences of our actions. We must use evaluation to learn from past efforts what works, through which mechanisms, why, and under what circumstances. At the same time, we must keep our eye on the ball, never to forget that our ultimate goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere and to stabilize climate change. Too many policies, programs and projects have done what they set out to do, reached their objectives, but barely made a dent in the big picture. Evaluators have the responsibility to look beyond outputs of individual interventions to determine whether they are making a difference, contributing to our ultimate goal. As I mentioned earlier, climate change impacts vary by geography. But they also affect different groups of people in different ways. It is a fair statement to say that poor people are generally more vulnerable to climate change impacts than the wealthy people. Their choices and ability to cope with climate impacts are limited. They have a harder time to bounce back after a major storm destroys their property or a prolonged drought causes a crop failure. There are pockets of highly vulnerable groups in Mexico, notably those living in isolated rural communities depending on traditional agriculture in places like Chiapas, but also in central Mexico not too far from here . As mentioned earlier, climate change is affecting crop productivity and water availability and, thus, directly their livelihoods and wellbeing. Furthermore, coastal areas in places as varied as Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Tabasco and Guerrero are at risk from coastal inundation, saltwater intrusion and tropical cyclones. We must not deal only with climate change mitigation, but importantly with adaptation. This was recognized in the Climate Change COP and the Paris Agreement for the first time gives equal weight to the need to adapt to climate change impacts. In practice, this means reducing the vulnerability and increasing resilience of people and infrastructure to climate change, including more frequent natural disasters, such as intensified coastal storms and increased weather variability. Evaluation approaches in adaptation are still being developed and our knowledge of this aspect is somewhat behind that of evaluating climate change mitigation. It is, however, important to recognize that evaluating adaptation places us firmly in the realm of human systems and the social, economic and political spheres. As we evaluate actions that are intended to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience, we must again take an integrated and holistic view that encompasses both natural and human systems. We have choices in the ways we seek to enhance resilience. For example, we may decide to build a seawall to protect a community against storm surges and sea level rise. Or we may decide to restore the coastal mangroves that provide a natural protection against the sea, while also acting as spawning grounds for fish and crustaceans, and providing ecosystem services for example by way of water purification. These choices have consequences for the coastal communities and their livelihoods. Evaluators should be able to assess the benefits and risks and the long term sustainability of such choices and to inform policy. The focus of this seminar is on evaluation of climate change policy. Policy evaluation always entails uncertainty and I would argue that this uncertainty is increased further by climate change. In all cases, policy effects are long term and complex. They depend on multiple intervening factors, as no policy takes place in a vacuum. Many of the intervening factors are beyond the control of policymakers. They include economic factors that may depend on developments in the global economy. Technological and scientific advances can make policies obsolete or irrelevant. And natural factors, such as a catastrophic storm or weather-related event may overwhelm the policy-responses. Again, climate change adds risk and uncertainty to the policy. Policies are also only as good as how well and consistently they are implemented. We need regulatory frameworks and legislation that is enforced for policy to be implemented. Another factor is the predictability of policy. In democratic systems where the political pendulum may swing significantly following an election, the new government may attempt to reverse policy. These factors again highlight the need for climate change evaluators to look at the phenomena in an integrated and holistic manner focusing on the effectiveness of policy implementation and the longer term consistency. Are policies relevant and effective in addressing the drivers of climate change? Are they relevant and effective for reducing vulnerability and building resilience? In order for us to be able to do this, we need to develop robust M&E systems and collect systematic data. But we also need a broad range of rigorous evaluation methodologies and solid theories of change to understand why progress is or isn’t made, and how we can improve future policies and performance. Evaluative evidence of this kind is essential for Mexico and all other countries to make informed choices in the fight against climate change. It also serves the dual purpose of being able to assess and report back on the achievement of the SDGs. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The China Collectors: America's Century-Long Hunt for Asian Art TreasuresThe China Collectors: America's Century-Long Hunt for Asian Art Treasures by Karl E. Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a thoroughly fascinating book about Chinese art -- and more about men and women from America and Europe who collected it (sometimes through looting, especially in the early times) and brought it to collections and museums in the United States. We read about the adventurers, diplomats, curators and others who entered China a century ago and discovered Chinese art that was not recognized in the West. Famous collectors, like J.P. Morgan, Charles Lang Freer and the Rockefellers play important roles, as do Chinese counterparts and suppliers of art like C.T. Loo. We learn about how major museums in Boston, New York, Kansas City, Washington, DC, and elsewhere -- developed what now constitute major collections of Chinese and other Asian art. We also learn about how the Freer Gallery, and later its pair the Sackler Gallery, on the National Mall came about (one of the most entertaining chapters focuses on the life of Arthur M. Sackler). All of this placed in an historical context: the two World Wars, the Great Depression, and naturally Mao's revolution in China all greatly influenced the collecting of Chinese art by Westerners and the commercial and cultural exchanges more broadly.

I took a long time reading this book. Partly, it was because I didn't always find the appropriate time to focus on the book (instead, I found myself reading a number of novels in between). Partly it was because I often felt the need to look up particular cultural periods or art works in a reference volume (for this I used Michael Sullivan's gorgeous The Arts of China, Fourth Edition). But partly it was also that some of the book was a bit tedious. In particular, I found the early parts of the book on the Boston Brahmins and Harvard in the late-1800s a tad unnecessarily detailed. Overall, I found that the book was somewhat uneven.

To me the most interesting parts were in the second half and concerned events after WWII. We were there introduced to a number of colorful characters, such as Sackler, Baron Eduard von der Heydt and the former president of the Olympic Committee Avery Brundage. The book ends with current events in China, which has experienced an enormous art boom in recent years and the construction of more than 3,800 museums in the 2010s alone. Chinese art auction houses have also become equal to the Sotheby's and Christie's. In China's new Gilded Age, nouveau riche collectors pay millions of dollars for art, while forgery thrives. The China Poly Group Corporation, owned by the People's Liberation Army, is the largest of the auction houses and aims to become number one in the world. The book ends with a cautiously optimistic note about fruitful exchanges between China and the US, and the development of art in China (including through such mega stars as Ai Weiwei and Zhang Xiaogang), while noting that the Communist Party in China still wants to control how history is written and understood.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

EvalStory: Focus on whether global environmental programs are really making a difference

Discussing evaluation contributions to the global environment, including the need to focus on the big picture instead of individual interventions.

My video interview

Published on Sep 6, 2015
In September 2015 the UN General Assembly will endorse the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are universal, integrated, comprehensive, and have a particular focus on social equity and gender equality. SDGs will shape development strategies at global, regional and national levels for the next 15 years. We believe that the evaluation community must work together to ensure that evaluation remains relevant and is fit for purpose in the world where development will be guided by the SDGs. This is why EvalPartners is leading a participatory consultative process to define the 2016-2020 Global Evaluation Agenda. During the 2015 International Year of evaluation, thousands of evaluators are contributing their voices and thinking through an online consultation and face-to-face discussions in 74 events all over the world.

EvalPartners has teamed up with Universalia, a Canadian management consulting firm established in 1980, to launch the EvalStory campaign.  Starting Monday, 24th August, EvalStory will release two videos per week (see schedule below) presenting messages from top evaluation influencers and members of the wider evaluation community to ensure that the voices of evaluation advocates are heard.

We hope you enjoy their messages, wisdom and experience! Please share this announcement with your networks to ensure their voices are heard globally!


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Rikuzentakata July 2015 - Reconstruction from the Tsunami

The earthworks are simply mind blowing. 24-7, the conveyor belts bring earth from the nearby mountains and pile it on the coastal zone to raise the level of the low-lying land by at least 10 meters. It’s more than four years since the tsunami leveled the Sanriku coast and killed more than 15,000 people and made 230,000 homeless on Japan’s Pacific coast. This rehabilitation work that shows virtually no end is a demonstration of Japanese spirit and tenacity.

I traveled back to the Sanriku coast together with Abetake-sensei to see the progress in reconstruction. We did our first jointtrip here in March 2012, just a year after the great east Japan earthquake and tsunami had laid waste to the most unexpecting part of Japan. Abetake-sensei is my wife’s high school geography teacher in Mizusawa, in Iwate Prefecture.

Mizusawa is luckily some 60 km inland and higher up in elevation from the coast. Although the earthquake affected my family’s area, the tsunami did not reach even close.


Abetake-sensei picked me up in Mizusawa this rainy morning and we crossed the coastal mountain range to reach the Sanriku coast. The rather high limestone mountains have all their steep slopes covered in thick forest. In odd flat locations one can suddenly see perfectly maintained rice paddies on terraces where the terrain has allowed adequate space. At this time of the year, their green is so bright as to shine amongst the dark hills. The rainy season – tsuyu – is supposed to be over but the rain has been heavy since last night.

We stopped at Daitoo, a town about half way to the coast for a rest stop and a cigarette for my host. Daitoo is in a beautiful spot in a valley protected from all sides by mountains. We continued onwards driving through the village of Ohara, a small agricultural congregation by the Satetsugawa river, a tributary to the Kitagamigawa river that flows from the north to the south traversing Mizusawa. We were still on the western side of the watershed, meaning that the river flows inland towards the more major Kitagamikawa river.

Having soon crossed the next range – through some distinctly impressive bridges and tunnels above and through mountains – we started descending to the coastal plain. At this stage the road followed Kesengawa, a charming if not a major river known for its Ayu fisheries (ayu or sweetfish caught in rivers and often grilled or fried is one of the delicacies of the Tohoku region). The Kesengawa drains into the Pacific Ocean and when the tsunami struck, its flow was reversed bringing the devastating flood waters as far as 7 km inland.

Descending onto the coastal plain past the sea terraces, the landscape had changed so much that it was difficult to get one’s bearings. On both sides of the road there were huge mounds of earth leveled by bulldozers while enormous conveyer belts transported more earth to the piles from the nearby mountains. It seemed that the goal was to raise the level of the entire coastal plain by 10 meters. For what purpose, was not imminently clear. Hundreds of men and machines were at work now more than four years after the tragedy.


Access to the coastline was blocked from the main area of the former town. We drove south towards Kesennuma and found a road that led to the fishing port. Even there men were at work establishing seawalls. Still, I was able to get to the waterfront to observe the bay where boats were again active.



The legendary lone pine – Ippon Matsu – that became the symbol of resilience after the tsunami is long gone. It was one in many tall pines that lined the coast and miraculously survived the tidal wave – but despite the efforts of the city officials, scientists and the public, it died because of the salinization of the soil and groundwater after the intrusion of the sea. It lives on in numerous flags and posters and a monument is being established for it, I was told although it was impossible to reach the location. Many Japanese people – including school groups – were strolling around the area with their cameras.

The work will continue for years. It begs the question, though, what for? This is not the first time the Sanriku coast has been hit by a tsunami and it won’t be the last either.  This time the destruction and death toll were huge, mostly because of the coastal development and population concentrations on the waterfront. So why spend all the trillions of yen and years of civil works only so that the coast could be rebuilt and people could reestablish themselves in the hazard zone? Unfortunately, this seems to be an expression of the Japanese attitude, a downside of the tenacity: Engineering and civil works to tame the nature – and at the same time do irrevocable damage to the surrounding mountain environments. Here this seems even more futile because the coast has already been depopulated and virtually all people left for the cities and towns further inland, many with no intent on returning. Some of the old folks may want to return to their home areas but even they would likely not want to live right on the coast where their old neighborhoods were destroyed and friends died.  Most likely, the official approach will be to provide homogenous housing, which will be convenient but not appealing.


Naturally, Rikuzentakata is not the only community on the Sanriku coast that is struggling with recovery. The central government is paying for the efforts but it is the local governments that decide on how the money should be spent. In fact, the central government has been criticized for not spending enough of the allocated funds, so massive civil works like those here are welcome, so that large amounts of funds can be disbursed. The local governments have a wish to make the communities livable again. The trouble is that nobody knows who and how many people would eventually return.


The tsunami disaster had a profound impact on the coastal communities, not only in a physical sense. The very fabric of the communities was torn apart. As my friend, Prof. Mikiyasu Nakayama of Tokyo University, has found in his research, many younger people who used to live with the grandparents in three generation households – especially young women dominated by the mothers-in-law – have found it liberating to move away and establish a new life on their own in the urban areas. Even others have realized that modern life in the city with all its amenities is convenient. There is no going back.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Does Evaluation Advance Environment and Sustainable Development?

Global environmental challenges in the post-2015 era and the role of evaluation

The whole world talks about sustainable development. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are now coming to an end to be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As we know, the concept of sustainable development is supposed to denote development today that doesn’t compromise the ability of the future generations to develop their own world. Well, it’s now 23 years since the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit and the world is still struggling with the notion of sustainable development, how to reach there, and how to measure progress.

Blog written for the United Nations Evaluation Group

Friday, April 3, 2015

Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne ShorterFootprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter by Michelle Mercer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wayne Shorter is one of the greatest innovators in the music that is broadly defined as jazz. He is a most influential saxophonist whose tenor playing builds upon the foundations laid by earlier masters from Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young to Coltrane. On soprano, he was the foremost pioneer since the late 1960s. Most importantly, he is an extraordinary composer with an amazing breadth of knowledge and influences from Western classical to Brazilian music. Born in 1933, Shorter is also one of the last of the generation that revolutionized jazz who is left with us. The biography by Michelle Mercer is, thus, a must read for everyone interested in the evolution of music and the role of this giant in it.

‘Footsteps’ that takes its name from one of Shorter’s most famous compositions follows him from his early days in Newark, NJ, until almost today. Mercer has spent plenty of time with the man himself, as well as those close to him, gleaning tremendous amounts of information and an obvious love and admiration for him. The biography takes us through the major bands with which Shorter was affiliated throughout the 1960s to 1980s, all of them central to the development of contemporary music. First there was Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in which young Wayne soon assumed the role of a prominent composer and musical director. Then came Miles Davis’ Quintet, which to me personally was arguably the best combo ever, with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams completing the roundup of geniuses. Wayne stayed with Miles to innovate with the new electric experiments on ‘Filles de Kilimanjaro,' ‘In a Silent Way’ and 'Bitches Brew,' turning to the soprano.

To the larger audience, Shorter is probably most known as a founding member and co-leader, with Joe Zawinul, of Weather Report. The band was active from 1971 to 1986 and achieved unprecedented commercial success for a “jazz” outfit. This was largely due to Zawinul’s directions that took the band from its early free electronic avant-garde increasingly towards funky beats and catchy vamps (think, ‘Birdland’ from the 1977 album ‘Heavy Weather’). When the super-bassist Jaco Pastorius joined Weather Report in 1976, he and Zawinul formed a powerful axis in the band’s music. In the later years, Shorter’s role in the band was audibly diminished, which has led many to speculate about the reasons. Given the centrality of Weather Report to Shorter’s career over a decade and a half, Mercer spends a significant portion of the book exploring the period providing many interesting insights.

It is also interesting to read about Shorter’s ventures crossing over to rock, and his thoughts about them. He had a long-term and very productive relationship with Joni Mitchell producing some beautiful music together. He also collaborated with Carlos Santana whose appreciation of jazz and musical inclinations coincided with those of Shorter, despite their different points of departure. Both, for examples, admire Coltrane. Arguably the best saxophone solo ever on a rock record (the only one competing I can think of is Fred Lipsius’ alto solo on ‘God Bless the Child’ by Blood, Sweat & Tears) was by Shorter on the title song of Steely Dan’s extraordinary 1977 album ‘Aja.’ It was very interesting to learn that it was constructed of fragments of several solos improvised by Wayne. Shorter would have had much demand as a session player for rock stars, but hesitated to sell out and declined almost all offers. The fact that he did collaborate with Mitchell, Santana and Steely Dan is testimony to the latter artists' musical sensibilities.

Throughout the years Shorter has made his own recordings, starting with ‘Introducing Wayne Shorter’ in 1959. His discography thus far contains some 25 titles under his own name as leader, the latest being ‘Without a Net’ (2013) with his permanent quartet with Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade. Many critics and fans welcomed the quartet when it was formed in 2000 as the first fully acoustic group that Shorter played with in a long while. He himself appears extremely satisfied with the group of younger but by now established musicians each with their own credentials as leaders.

‘Footprints’ is an intimate book with a close look at Wayne Shorter’s personal life. He has had his share of hardships, including the illness and death at 14 of his daughter Iska with his beloved second wife Ana Maria with whom he spent nearly three decades until she perished on the TWA flight 800 that exploded off Long Island in 1996. Over long periods of time, Shorter also struggled with creativity as a composer, only to find that it would always come back propelling him to write ever more inspired and complex music. In 1999, Shorter remarried and appears to be at peace with himself. He is a practicing Nichiren Buddhist and active member of the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai (alongside many other artists, such as his close friends Herbie Hancock and Tina Turner). Here one would have wished the biographer take a bit more distance and not reporting everything about Soka Gakkai in such gushing terms. An interesting insight from the biography is also how films have provided important inspiration to the composer.

Reading the book made me go back and listen again to many of Wayne Shorter’s recordings from the celebrated old favorites ‘JuJu’ (1964) and ‘Speak No Evil’ (1965) to his latest with the new quartet. In between I rediscovered the ethereal beauty of ‘Odyssey of Iska’ (1970). The near magical wonder of ‘Native Dancer’ (1974) featuring Milton Nascimento’s unique and haunting singing I have been lucky never to lose in these intervening years. Like for many others, the following productions in the mid-1980s following a decade with no records under his own name had always left me somewhat cold, although I do remember hearing the Wayne Shorter band live in Rome, Italy, soon after the release of ‘Atlantis’ in 1985 and raving about it. I am yet to go back to that and other records from the period, which sit on my shelf waiting for me to gather the courage.

I did go back to listen to Weather Report. Not the all too familiar funk albums but the early ones that had been overshadowed by the later, flashier productions. The original eponymous album from 1971 rekindled the magic with its sparkles and lightness. With the third founding member, Miroslav Vitous (with whom the band would later break acrimoniously to follow Zawinul’s vision for a heavier, funkier sound) played a key role, as did the percussionists Alphonse Mouzon and Airto Moreira. There still were no synthesizers, with the Fender Rhodes and the occasional bass guitar as the only electric instruments. The subsequent albums – ‘I Sing the Body Electric,’ ‘Sweetnighter,’ ‘Mysterious Traveller’ – that appeared annually after the first album continued in the footsteps of the original. I am not saying that the later Weather Report productions were bad – on the contrary – but I personally miss the free-flowing mysticism of the early ones.

Amazing beauty and creativity can also be heard on one of Wayne Shorter’s newer recordings, ‘Alegria’ (2003), which contains the master’s compositions featuring, in addition to his regular quartet, a large orchestra with horns, woodwinds and strings, and additional guests, such as Brad Mehldau, Terri Lyne Carrington and the Weather Report alumnus Alex Acuña.

Wayne Shorter has had a long, varied and incredibly productive career. He has been, deservedly, recognized by the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz with a Lifetime Achievement Award (2013) and with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2014). We must be grateful to Michelle Mercer for bringing us a biography that is well-researched, intimate and provides the readers and listeners a look into the life and mind of this creative genius.


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