Plays Ware
Splasc(H) Records CDH 862.2

Who would have believed at this late date that underneath his blustery interior melodic and romantic impulses inhabit the soul of Free Jazz firebrand tenor saxophonist David S. Ware? His regular sidemen – to name three individuals.

This CD offers eight of the reedist’s original compositions interpreted by pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker and drummer Guillermo E. Brown. At its conclusion, without knowing the writer’s identity, you might link the intense pieces are some of pianist Herbie Nichols’ tougher lines or even unknown modernistic Duke Ellington compositions.

Part of this can be connected to the dexterity of Shipp, who when he’s really on, can mix the most advanced keyboard impulses with glancing, sometimes split-second references to earlier jazz masters. But it could also be that without Ware’s oversized presence spewing out frenetic, declamatory saxophone inflections, his compositions’ shape becomes clearer. In truth, Ware isn’t as nuanced a soloist as even Charles Gayle is. Yet when pared to their compositional kernels, these tunes reveal their inner strength, swing, and – dare one say – beauty?

Also, because the CD is called PLAYS WARE, not “sounds of the trio”, Parker and Shipp – two of improv’s most bravura performers – subordinate their massive technical prowess to the themes. Brown, the most recent members of Ware’s quartet keeps himself under wraps, limiting himself to short solos. Elsewhere his constrained snare and cymbal work, often with brushes, stays out of the way. As Ware drummers go, Brown adds more than Whit Dickey may have, though Susie Ibarra would probably have created more unusual textures here.

Among the themes are ones that call upon Shipp’s command of the gospel idiom, impressionistic romanticism and the sort of sharp swing-to-bop cadenzas that bring Nichols’ work to mind. Some detour into expositions that could come from Broadway show themes, and there’s one head that may be a twin of Chicago’s “Color My World”.

Sometimes the pianist uses his metronomic time sense and a weighty touch to rapidly produce ornamental variations on the primary melody. In other cases he’ll sound seemingly endless arpeggios and near-swing riffs that circumscribe one another. Or if need be, he can lighten his tone to skitter across the keys.

Right beside him, as they have done in so in many projects over more than a dozen years, is Parker. Besides adding the bowed intensity of his preferred sul ponticello licks, the bassist uses smooth arco action and thick pizzicato springs to complement or encourage the pianist’s technique. One precise jagged pluck or buzzing spiccato swish can add as much as a multitude of positions from another bass man. Together, the two produce a definitive, dense climax to these tunes. Meantime, Brown’s stick rattling, cymbal shakes or tempo shifting complete the picture.

Compositional interpretations are sometime easier to grasp than the original versions and this CD should impress those who have followed Ware’s work, and those who merely tolerate it. Parker notes that Ware has written over 100 compositions for his quartet alone. If other recreations of his work are at the same high standard as PLAYS WARE, in future the saxophonist could end up like Liszt or Chopin: a performer celebrated more for his compositions than his performing.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Manu’s Ideal 2. Godspelized 3. Dinosauria 4. Lexicon 5. Reign of Peace 6. Wisdom Through Time 7. Dao Forms 8. Mystic March

Personnel: Matthew Shipp (piano); William Parker (bass); Guillermo E. Brown (drums)