Ware’s skill is in sustaining invention in the face of utter freedom.
Phil Smith 2010-03-24
Making an album from a free jazz concert seems something of a misnomer. Can music created as an event, an improvised performance, become a fixed object packaged for repeat listening? Indeed it’s difficult to know when – as a 40-minute, freeform, honks-aplenty solo saxophone recital – you’d turn to your collection and pop Saturnian on the CD player. Not first thing Monday, perhaps. But do so in the right frame of mind and the sound of David S. Ware hits you first time and gets better with ever spin.
It’s difficult not to equate the uncompromising urgency and emotion of the playing with Ware’s successful recovery from a life-threatening illness last year; this was a very personal comeback moment shared with an appreciative audience. The American’s prowess as an improviser – heard elsewhere in a fine discography of quartet recordings – is presented here in its rawest form, recorded alone on a New York stage with no colleagues or chords for company.
From the opening octave leaps of Methone, Ware’s soprano saxello probes and prods repeatedly at various intervals of pitch, reflecting a post-Coltrane interest in sound – timbre, tone, a uniquely-saxophonic-if-that’s-a-word flourish – rather than sense – clear melodic lines or phraseology. Overt jazz language is eschewed as Ware works with short thematic scraps which are repeated, mantra-like, varied and then thrown away with exciting spontaneity. There’s a good example of this in Pallene – the concert’s central piece for alto – in which a fragment from Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser is stumbled upon, taken up and then cast aside.
As with similar solo ventures from saxophonists of his generation (Anthony Braxton, Evan Parker, Dave Liebman…), Ware’s skill is in sustaining invention in the face of utter freedom. The pieces form as peaks and troughs on a graph, moving between episodes of contrasting energies (fast to slow) and shifting through pitch-constellations (low to high, to Saturnian) towards the ever-ascending climax of Anthe.
Ware has named the pieces after moons that orbit Saturn. On the right day, it’s good to go there with him.