...devotees will consider this essential listening...
Alexander Kindness 2006
With Ware's background in the 70's New York loft scene and as a Cecil Taylor sideman, some listeners might be put off from viewing one of today's most distinctive tenor voices as a 'far-out' player. Will this album, with its emphasis on ballads, do anything to entice such an audience towards his music?
Well, this is not a CD of 'standards' as such; three of the seven tracks are original material, and "Angel Eyes" is what they call in international politics 'disputed territory'. In the liner notes it is credited inadvertently to Ware, but it sounds like some skeletal remnant of the song by Dennis and Brent, albeit with altered harmonies, making the chords sound even darker.
Ware's typical manner of stating a ballad theme is to play the tune as written, but between each phrase of this to insert harmonically relevant, expressionistic bursts of phrases. His soloing sometimes takes the form of an unaccompanied cadenza; on "Tenderly" he gives us two, and the first is probably his finest of the set, interspersing fragments of the melody with stream-of-consciousness, highly vocal playing.
His two long-term colleagues, Matthew Shipp on piano and William Parker on bass are joined by Guillermo E. Brown who had recently (this album dates from 1999) replaced Susie Ibarra on drums. Parker provides a rock-solid, metreless harmonic backdrop and solos only once, briefly. Sometimes, as on "Dao", a succession of solos is replaced by contrapuntal improvisation on tenor and piano.
"Autumn Leaves", where the quartet stay close to the original harmonies and improvise thematically, is probably the 'easy way' into this album, but it is not easy music on the whole. It's far more forbidding than, say, Coltrane's ballad-playing. Surrendered by the same quartet, or Ware's recent work with string ensemble might be a better introduction to his music, but devotees will consider this essential listening.