David S. Ware Planetary Unknown – Live at Jazzfestival Saalfelden 2011

This is the final recording made by David S. Ware, the great American saxophonist who died just two months ago, on October 18, 2012.

Nobody played saxophone like David S. Ware. I had the great fortune to see his quartet with Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and Susie Ibarra live in London in 1999*, and it speaks volumes that when Roscoe Mitchell was invited to play with them the intense aura they had generated in the first half of the performance was dissipated, and a palpable sense of disappointment rippled through the hall. Ware’s music was immersive and ideationally idiosyncratic, and the intrusion of even a seasoned performer like Mitchell could only serve, it seemed, to dilute the effect.

Of course Ware was a seasoned collaborator, having been first blooded in the ‘70s New York loft scene. He cemented his international reputation as a heavyweight saxophonist through a series of recordings, issued between 1992 and 2006, with the quartet featuring 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 and dialysis for a decade before a successful kidney transplantation in 2009, but soon made a remarkable return to work, recording the live solo performance Saturnian just weeks after the operation, and then the wonderful Onecept (AUM Fidelity, 2010) with William Parker and drummer Warren Smith, and the Planetary Unknown studio album (AUM Fidelity, 2011). To those unaware of his health issues, he seemed to be going from strength to strength.

This album presents a new hour-long improv suite, “Processional”, performed live for the second time (it was premiered just two months earlier in New York) in August 2011 by Planetary Unknown, a group of peers convened by Ware in late 2010, in the hope that it would thrive and develop as a live touring band. Sadly, however, the Jazzfestival Saalfelden concert was to be Ware’s last performance.

Ware’s music was at its least convincing when the focus shifted away from his imperious saxophone. Witness the music for string ensemble (Threads – Thirsty Ear, 2003), or the date with Matthew Shipp on synth (Corridors & Parallels – AUM Fidelity, 2001) – in each case, Ware elects simply not to play over the unfamiliar textures. When it came to pianists, Ware seemed to favour extrovert performers – Cecil Taylor and Cooper-Moore (aka Gene Ashton) in the 70s, Shipp and Cooper-Moore again in recent years) who can break into and reshape the music’s flow with a comparable masterfulness.

This recording documents Ware at his best, in a fully sympathetic setting, but it’s probably not the best place for newcomers to his music to start: that remains either the first recordings of the Shipp quartet – Flight of i or Third Ear Recitation (DIW, 1992/1993), which presented Ware’s new take on the New Thing alongside radically faithful interpretations of selected standards – or the Planetary Unknown studio album.

Playing here alongside Cooper-Moore, the stalwart William Parker (bass), and Muhammad Ali (drums), Ware eviscerates and reanimates three meaty, discursive long-form collective improvisations: “Precessional 1” (33:15), “2” (19:04) and “3” (14:37).

“Precessional 1” is incendiary, with Ware on unrelentingly incandescent form for a straight quarter-hour, his initial solo declamation spurring the band to whip up a seething rhythmic broil. And when Ware steps back, the puckish Cooper-Moore comes to the fore, taking up the baton for his own quicksilver extemporisation.

“Processional 2” is combustibly conversational, with Ali’s polyrhythms stirring a tumultuous agitation in Cooper-Moore’s playing that Parker must dig deep to anchor. After 30 years away from the music, Muhammad Ali – Rashied ‘Interstellar Space‘ Ali’s brother – plays with all the spunky, inimitable freshness and raw power of a prodigy.

William Parker introduces “Processional 3” solo, developing an arco hymn-like theme which, joining in a lovely duet, Ware then spins into a psalmody that’s by turns tender and piercing. Cooper-Moore’s variations are mordantly gilded, Ali generally content to emphasise the pulse implicit in Parker’s lines, but probing further when sax and piano converge. But the exchange between Ware and Cooper-Moore remains esoteric, their conversation’s resolution satisfactory open-ended. Evidently, Ware still had plenty to say.

* David S. Ware Quartet with Roscoe Mitchell, The Queen Elizabeth Hall, London; 06 February 1999. Ware’s only other London date was in 1978, at the 100 Club, with Andrew Cyrille & Maono. Source: Rick Lopez – The David S. Ware Sessionography

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David S. Ware, Cooper-Moore, William Parker, Muhammad Ali – Planetary Unknown
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Roscoe Mitchell at Cafe Oto, March 2012

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