Freedom Suite
AUM Fidelity AUM 023

Performing and recording the music of another innovator is probably the most profound challenge a jazzman can face. Especially difficult is reinterpreting a piece that brings forth memories of the originator every time it’s played; and this predicament doubles when the piece involved is programmatic, rather than just one tune.

Through careful planning and — to be honest — luck, tenor saxophonist David S. Ware and his quartet have avoided these pitfalls with their version of Sonny Rollins’ FREEDOM SUITE, originally done in 1958. For a start, unlike Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk — to name three other jazz stars whose works are constantly being recast — no one else has tried to take on Rollins’ masterwork. Additionally, although the piece itself presaged a group of equally important thematic Pan African and Black Nationalist compositions by Max Roach — who also played on the disc — Charles Mingus and Coltrane, the suite itself is mostly based on tone and dynamic variations, rather than definitive motifs.

By more than doubling its length to 39:24 minutes from 19:29 minutes and dividing it into four parts, the Ware quartet can then construct its variations on the major theme and go on from there to give it an individual reading. Especially salutary is the blustering tone of Ware, who was not only influenced by Rollins, but over the years has counted the older saxophonist as a mentor. He, bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp has been together for more than a decade, so their close rapport and intuitive support are even more pronounced then the interaction in Rollins’ pick up group of 1958.

In truth, as well, Parker, whose rooted time keeping and innovatory arco and pizzicato is used to good effect here, is probably an even better bassist than early bopper Oscar Pettiford who recorded on the original LP. At the same time, Shipp, who has no role model to fall back on, creates a new, dramatic part for himself, full of obbligatos, low frequencies and lots of left hand action. Only young drummer Guillermo E. Brown suffers in comparison to Roach — who wouldn’t — but except for some polyrhythms in the third section, he mostly limits himself to cymbal shimmers, press rolls and general accompaniment.

More ferocious in his output than Rollins was in his day, Ware’s blurred growls and buzz tones are a less conventional response to the material. But his embellishments add R&B shouting rather than the sort of extended technique that is Ware’s usual stock in trade. It’s noteworthy too that in the second section, the pianist’s andante syncopation have a Wynton Kelly cast to them and are actually the equivalent in this version to the sort of chording the later provided on 1950s and 1960s sessions. That section ends with an extended sprayed cadenza from the saxist, culminating in a fog horn cry over top of pedal-point arco ostinato from the bassist.

Moving between modal accompaniment and a version of a classical fantasia with a gentle touch, Shipp sometimes reprises the theme, but usually lets Ware build the connective tissue. Ultimately it’s the saxophonist who introduces the thematic resolution on the final track. But he does so through variations without explicitly stating the theme. Meanwhile Shipp reintroduces right-handed tremolos that serve as his version of hard- bop comping, as Parker’s tone constantly shifts and convenes any errant music. In conclusion, Ware advances a triumphant run through of the main theme using the same harsh, distinctive intonation with which he began the suite, and everyone gets in a lick or two before the end.

If there’s any downside to the quartet’s triumphal run through of this composition, is that it may encourage others with less acumen to follow suit and unsuccessfully take on other modern jazz classics. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but this FREEDOM SUITE can stand with the original through transmogrification.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Freedom Suite 1 2. Freedom Suite 2 3. Freedom Suite 3 4. Freedom Suite 4

Personnel: David S. Ware (tenor saxophone); Mathew Shipp (piano); William Parker (bass); Guillermo E. Brown (drums)