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David S. Ware

Planetary Unknown


by Tim Owen

September 02, 2011


With each successive release, David S. Ware expresses something new within a body of work that, superficially at least, has a fairly narrow focus.

David S. Ware, Cooper-Moore, William Parker, Muhammad Ali

“Planetary Unknown”

(AUM Fidelity)

Although he was active in the ?70s New York loft scene, David S. Ware cemented his international reputation as a heavyweight saxophonist through a series of recordings, issued between 1992 and 2006, that featured a truly classic quartet: William Parker on bass, Matthew Shipp piano, and first Marc Edwards, then Whit Dickey, Susie lbarra, and finally Guilermo E. Brown on drums. Ware suffered from kidney disease at the age of 60, underwent successful kidney transplantation in 2009, but soon made a remarkable return to work. The old quartet was disbanded when Shipp moved on to concentrate on his own projects, but a new venture teamed Ware and Parker with drummer Warren Smith and guitarist Joe Morris. This unit shaped up nicely on the albums ?Shakti’ (2008) and ?Onecept’ (2010), but ?Planetary Unknown’ marks the début of yet another new quartet, which Ware hopes will be an ongoing concern. William Parker remains Ware’s invaluable right-hand man, generating from his double bass all the energy and momentum required to match the saxophonist in full flight, and enriching Ware’s compositions with emotional intensity.

One might attribute the short-term tenancy of the drum seat in Ware’s ?90s quartet to the rigours of playing alongside such an imposing, often imposingly percussive bassist. Muhammad Ali might be Parker’s best match yet. Ali has hitherto been best known by association with Albert Ayler, since he contributed to the 1969 sessions that yielded Ayler’s ?Music is the Healing Force of the Universe’ and ?The Last Album’. He’s also been cast unfairly into the shadow of his brother Rashied’s association with John Coltrane, particularly on the epochal ?Interstellar Space’ duets. Muhammad’s own career has been poorly represented on record, despite recording consistently if not prolifically (titles on independents that invariably went soon out of print) and enjoyed a long association with saxophonist Frank Wright. This album finally does the man some justice, and will hopefully be just the first step in a renaissance to equal that of his peer, the veteran bassist Henry Grimes. As with Grimes’, Ali’s skills are revealed here to be in rude health. He marries the vitality of players many years younger with all the authority and lightly worn gravitas of experience.

The presence of pianist Cooper-Moore is just as significant. His first experience was gained alongside David S. Ware and drummer Marc Edwards in the trio Apogee, back in 1970, but he retired from performance in the early 80s, reportedly smashing and torching his piano in disaffection. He then worked for a while as an educator through music, and took to instrument making. When he performed it was as an accompanist for dance and theatre. When Cooper-Moore returned to jazz in the early ?90s, it was as a member of William Parker’s In Order to Survive. Now he occasionally crops up in unexpected contexts, such as on a favourite album of mine by Talibam!, ?Ordination of the Globetrotting Conscripts’ (2007), on which he plays his diddley-bo [sic], mouth-bow, and ?twanger’. He leads a trio with Tom Abbs and Chad Taylor called Triptych Myth, and is also the organist in William Parker’s Organ Quartet, which was documented last year on the outstanding ?Uncle Joe’s Spirit House’ album (Centering Records).

Given the back-story of these four master musicians, ?Planetary Unknown’ carries a heavy weight of expectation. It comprises seven all new co-composed pieces fleshed out through improvisation. The album gets under way with a 22 minute epic, “Passage Wudang”, which is gratifyingly intense at first, in the manner of Ware’s most uncompromising albums, with Cooper-Moore squaring up to Ware’s bellicosity with a blocky, angular style of attack not unlike Matthew Shipp’s before him. But as the track stretches out, Cooper-More becomes more fluid, lyrical, and almost stately. The opening and closing tracks are the only ones here that conform to Ware’s post-fire-music style. With Cooper-Moore and Ali aboard, this quartet’s signature sound is looser than you might expect, sometimes more akin to European free music, albeit with clear memories of such strains of Americana as soul and gospel deep within its constitution. At the fifteen minute mark, “Passage Wudang” takes a beguilingly sensitive turn, and a sax-less trio play the piece out as a pastorale. Ware returns only to sign the piece out, but gets the following “Shift” under way in tandem with Ali. It’s a short, unclassifiable piece with the quartet all playing as if at odds, yet fitting together with organic seamlessness. Ware is on tenor only for these tracks and the following duet with Ali, “Duality is One”. Ali is almost insouciantly free here: as Ware rips into a rapid series of variations on the melody the veteran drummer keeps the rhythm buoyant and elastic, effectively tempering the saxophonists’ intensity.

The next three tracks feature Ware on sopranino, his tone more honeyed on the lighter horn than on past outings. Cooper-Moore and Ware swap searching, luminous solos on “Divination”, before the rhythm section rejoin. Ali is on brushes throughout, while Parker plucks full, plummy notes from the bass and Cooper-Moore’s piano darts to refract the sopranino’s switches and turns. There’s gentleness at play here that’s new to Ware’s recorded output. This is particularly evident on the brief “Chrystal Palace” and the following “Divination Unfathomable”. Parker plays deeply resonant bowed bass here that draws Ware into some particularly searching lines. Midway through “Divination” Ware breaks into flurries of circular breathing, Cooper-Moore responds with rapid ebbs and flows of pianism, and Parker and Ali respectively bow and brush up a minor storm. Ware switches to stritch (straight alto) for the closing “Ancestry Supramental”, which starts bright and up-tempo, underpinned by Parker’s nimble fingering, only to develop into an exhilarating, tumultuous give-and-take punctuated by brief percussive flurries, as everyone holds their agitation in restraint until just the right time to throw down. It’s magnificent, heady stuff. With each successive release, David S. Ware expresses something new within a body of work that, superficially at least, has a fairly narrow focus. With a trio of peers at his side he seems set to continue the tradition. 


I was lucky enough to watch the David S. Ware quartet in Saalfelden on 27/08/2011. What a fantastic group…  I am proud to share the same stage with them and to be able to chat with Muhammad Ali.

Korhan Arguden

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