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David S. Ware, Cooper-Moore, William Parker, Muhammad Ali Planetary Unknown Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A compelling supergroup project, recorded live in Brooklyn.

Kevin Le Gendre 2011

Spontaneous improvisation is the ultimate double or quits for any jazz ensemble, the climax being greater for its unpredictability, the anti-climax more crushing when the musicians fail to gel. If ‘free’ playing in a group loses its way, it is often because the individuals feel compelled to do something rather than do the right thing, namely tailor or rein in their expression to serve the collective sound.

The clearest indication that saxophonist David S. Ware, pianist Cooper-Moore, double bassist William Parker and drummer Muhammad Ali have understood that lies in the way the size and shape of their band shifts throughout this set. This is not so much a quartet as a four-piece unit that reveals trio, duo and solo within its framework without compromising the integrity of the ensemble. To place this in a historical context, one could say that they are loosely taking John Coltrane’s mid-60s Living Space quartet and Interstellar Space duet projects – the latter with Rashied Ali, brother of Muhammad – and exploring the pathways between them. But each member of the group has spent decades developing a signature on his instrument and investigating all manner of folk and art music, and that depth of knowledge is clear on the developmental, shape-shifting nature of each piece.

The highpoint is the epic Passage Wudang, which moves from a turbulent rhythmic base full of furiously fragmented, often unresolved phrases to the hypnotic ripple associated with an Asian tanpura line following several delicate falls of tempo and attack. It is a suite but the movements are not formalised nor obviously announced, and the greatest sign of the group’s ingenuity comes in the way that Ware plays whirring low register motifs at the three quarter mark that have the same meditative slant as the final phase of the piece. It’s a beautifully opaque foreword. On other tracks the narrative occasionally loses its thread amid the sheer forest-like density of the sound, but even in those moments of over-inflation there is something compelling about the strength of character of the individuals at the beating heart of this supergroup.

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