One obvious piece of good news regarding this release is that saxophonist Ware, who was on kidney dialysis since 1999 and had a kidney transplant in 2009, is still (or again) at peak form musically. Ware plays here with his longtime musical partner William Parker on bass and of course Parker does not disappoint. Unobtrusive almost to a fault, he is nonetheless unobtrusively everywhere, adding texture, colour and dynamic bursts of rhythmic counterpoint. But this is not the long-standing David S. Ware quartet with which many listeners will be familiar, chiefly due to pianist Cooper-Moore replacing Matthew Shipp, the quartet’s earlier pianist. And while the classic Ware quartet cycled through several drummers, Muhammad Ali (younger brother of the recently departed Rashid Ali) had not previously recorded with Ware and debuts on this CD.
The program is nicely divided into three sections, with the first section a set of three pieces featuring Ware on tenor sax, the second section another set of three pieces with Ware switching to sopranino – and then a final long piece with Ware playing stritch (a customized straight-bodied alto sax first introduced by Rahsaan Roland Kirk). The twenty-two minute opening piece, “Passage Wudang,” gives Ware and his quartet ample opportunity to stretch out and demonstrate their improvisational abilities, both collectively and individually. It’s clear from the outset that this is a very tight group, with the angular piano, drums and bass all very much attuned to each other, and all supporting Ware’s serpentine lines and musical exclamations in exemplary fashion. Although this is technically a new group for Ware, he and Cooper-Moore have a long history together, going back to the late ‘60s when they were students at the Berklee School of Music in Boston and later played for several years in an underexposed but groundbreaking free jazz group called Apogee. Cooper-Moore’s playing is often revelatory; his dissonant, percussive attack most closely resembles Cecil Taylor, but he is also a superb accompanist, often playing McCoy Tyner to Ware’s ecstatic Coletranish utterances, but in a much freer and more nimble style than Tyner. (It’s clear when listening to Cooper-Moore’s work with Ware why Tyner departed when Coltrane moved into his final experimental phase; Tyner’s pianistic style was rooted too solidly in an older jazz tradition which simply didn’t fit well with the “new thing.” Cooper-Moore, on the other hand, fits like a glove.) Percussionist Ali, who had a long and successful career in Europe before returning to the U.S., has always had a reputation as a sensitive, spiritual drummer who seldom dominates but always makes everyone around him better. He sounds here as if he has been playing with Ware, Parker and Cooper-Moore forever. His work at the end of “Passage Wudang,” when Ware is laying out, is particularly commendable. His style is polyrhythmic, with lots of tonal colour, but Ali never overstates his case. The final tenor track, “duality is One,” a duet between Ali and Ware, is also a nice illustration of his abilities as an interactive accompanist.
Ware’s style on tenor is very much in the energy mode of late Coltrane, with slurs, multiphonics and sheets of sound, although Ware’s tone and attack do also reveal other influences, including Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and even Coleman Hawkins. Ultimately, Ware is his own man – and is such a force of nature that any questions of influence are really superfluous. The three tracks for sopranino are largely in ballad mode and they allow Ware to display a lyrical side that is perhaps closer to Coltrane’s mid-period work on soprano. However, these are not re-workings of pop tunes a la “My Favourite Things” or “Inch Worm” ; the original compositions (titled “Divination,” “Crystal Palace” and “Divination Unfathomable”) are often quite abstract, with vocalisations, scalar runs and explorations of the instrument’s upper register. Nonetheless, the sopranino pieces are also quite delicate and thoughtful, serving as a nice counterpart to Ware’s much more visceral, aggressive work on tenor. The final piece for stritch recapitulates the energy music of the three tenor tracks, but the feathery, oboe-like quality of the instrument lightens the mood and forms a sonic bridge between the tenor and the sopranino. It is a fine ending to a splendid CD. The four individuals in this quartet obviously speak a common language – and speak it fluently. One can only hope that they will stay together a while and eventually favour us with another recording.