David S. Ware Diversifies

by Tom Hull

(Thirsty Ear)

From 1990's Great Bliss through 2000's Surrendered, David S. Ware established himself as the most erudite of '60s-rooted free saxophonists. But since then he's felt the need to diversify; as he admits in his liner notes to the just-released Threads, "there are enough records with me blowing my brains out." After all, even his most unreconstructed peer, Charles Gayle, has felt the need to take an occasional breather on piano or violin. And Ware's quartet-mates have been networking like mad: while Ware has appeared on 16 records since 1990, pianist Matthew Shipp has 50, and bass maestro William Parker 150. Ware's own recent records have been his most atypical: Corridors & Parallels rides on the electronics Shipp and drummer Guillermo E. Brown dabble in, while Freedom Suite remakes Sonny Rollins. But those albums were still dominated by the loud guy blowing.

Threads is something very different. The Quartet mushroomed into the String Ensemble by adding Mat Maneri on viola and third-stream hip-hopper Daniel Bernard Roumain on violin, while Shipp diddles the strings patches on his synth. But this isn't a sax-over-strings thing. Ware plays on only the three shortest cuts: two brief duets with drums that would be side-ending codas on an LP, and the dense opener, "Ananda Rotation." The other three are stretched out on minimal skeletons: the delicate "Carousel of Lightness," the gentle roll of the title cut, and the exotic vamp of of the Parker-propelled "Sufic Passages." The pleasures here are awfully subtle for free jazz, not to say inscrutable, but for all Ware's devotion to meditation this isn't New Age either. Rather, it suggests another one of Eno's green worlds, lushly overgrown and just a bit ominous.

But what Threads really lacks is one of the main reasons for listening to jazz: virtuosity. Ware's duets give you a taste of that, but his fiddlers should check out Billy Bang on Parker's Violin Trio record, Scrapbook. Bang's acidic tone cuts more grease than any fiddle's since John Cale was in the Velvet Underground, while Parker and drummer Hamid Drake astonish. Parker and Drake have been quite an item recently: two of their best are Piercing the Veil (Aum Fidelity), much more than a bass-drums duo, and . . . And William Danced (Ayler), a quickie blowing session with Swedish alto saxophonist Anders Gahnold. But Bang steals the show with the articulation and dexterity you hope for in a great saxophonist--like for instance David S. Ware, when he speaks with his own voice.


Relevant reviews from Parker CG:

The David S. Ware String Ensemble: Threads (2003, Thirsty Ear). I knew we were in trouble when the publicist started talking about how beautiful the new Ware + strings album is; then come the notes where Ware concedes that "there are enough records with me blowing my brains out." But this only adds two strings -- Matt Maneri on viola, and Daniel Bernard Roumain on violin -- to Ware's usual quartet, with the oomph still coming from Parker's bass and Shipp's synth. The idea is to focus on the Berklee-trained Ware as a composer, and to this end he lays out on three tracks, and lays back on the other three. But without his roiling sax the compositional ideas are primitive: the title cut rolls gently between paired notes for 13 minutes, the strings adding rich harmonic texture; "Ananda Rotation" is little more than a sheet of background synth, lightly etched with Ware riffs; "Carousel of Lightness" is merely a lazy river of tone; the two "Weave" pieces are drum improvs around sax backbones; and "Sufic Passages" rides its intro bass vamp into a plethora of variations. The latter is the best thing here: it reminds me a bit of Eno's Another Green World, but lushly overgrown. B+

William Parker Violin Trio: Scrapbook (2003, Thirsty Ear). The violin is Billy Bang, the third member Hamid Drake: the group is such a natural idea -- Parker and Bang played together quite a bit from 1974 through the '80s -- it's a surprise that it's taken so long to come about, but the results are even better than you'd expect. One can point to Parker's work with Mat Maneri for an indication of how well bass/violin can mesh, but Bang is a different cat altogether: like all avant violinists Bang started out from Leroy Jenkins, but he also worked with Sun Ra, who turned him onto Stuff Smith, and he founded the String Trio of New York with John Lindberg. The upshot is that Bang spans the whole history of jazz fiddle, in and out, up and down, with an unmistakable piercing sound and unlimited dynamics. The program here is a new set of Parker pieces, based on reminiscences -- dressing for church, watching children in colorful clothes. There's remarkable music throughout, interesting rhythms, striking phasing between bass and violin. And while Bang is the most vivid voice, Parker is always clear and remarkable, especially in his intro solo on "Holiday for Flowers." A

From the notebook:

The David S. Ware String Ensemble: Threads (2003, Thirsty Ear). Working off an advance here -- real thing is due in mid-September -- so I need some working notebook space here. The DSWSE is Ware's regular quartet (William Parker, Matthew Shipp (on Korg Triton Pro X), Guillermo E. Brown) plus Mat Maneri (viola) and Daniel Bernard Roumain (violin). Roumain is "a rising star in the classical world," or something like that. Maneri is well known by now, an avant-jazzer whose father (Joe Maneri) straddles the far-avant-classical/jazz spectrum (e.g., big on microtonal work). The pieces are: 1. Ananda Rotation (Ware riffs slowly against sheets of background, sounds more like synth than strings); 2. Sufic Passages (built around a little rhythmic vamp); 3. Weave I (starts with Ware plus drums, the first thing that sounds at all characteristic); 4. THREADS (this rolls gently, starting with synth and adding the strings, which become increasingly prominent); 5. Carousel of Lightness (a dreamy little landscape); 6. Weave II (more sax and drums). In case you're wondering, Ware's interest in strings has little to do (if anything) with Charles Gayle's string pieces, even through they both share Parker. A-

William Parker Violin Trio: Scrapbook (2003, Thirsty Ear). This is an advance -- don't have a lot of details. But the trio consists of Parker, Billy Bang, and Hamid Drake -- Bang is the violin. I need to go back and jot down the pieces before making notes, but there's a piece here where it sounds like Bang is picking his violin like a guitar on top of Parker doing the same on bass. Will have to listen more carefully, with better notes, but this really sounds extraordinary -- Bang obviously has the lead voice, and this is more free than, e.g., Vietnam, but he's at the top of his game, and Parker and Drake are always there for him -- extraordinary interaction. "Dust on a White Shirt" has a fanciful rhythm: meant as a dance, it has the delicacy of a minuet, but reframed as a hoe-down. "Urban" cuts out more aggressively, bass chasing violin. "Holiday for Flowers" starts out with Parker laying down a little shuffle, with Drake playing along, then Bang lays a little melody on top. A

The following are the liner notes from the Threads album:

Over the last three decades, David S. Ware has established himself as one of the finest, fiercest tenor players on the planet. With THREADS he has begun to illuminate a different facet of his musicianship. "I didn't want to make another quartet album with everybody blowing--there are enough records with me blowing my brains out," David explains: "I want to become as good a composer as I am a player." Speaking about working with string players alongside his Quartet to bring his compositions to life, David reveals, "I had this idea in the back of my mind for a few years, but I didn't know how it was going to happen."

Though the compositional emphasis is a new turn in David's career, the album is a continuation of the same practices which he has been engaged in for the last thirty years. "When I sit down and write, it's spontaneous," he says, implying a kind of abandonment similar to improvisation. The act of composing is a kind of channeling, an effort to capture the music on paper just as it came to him. "The piece THREADS didn't need any kind of correction, just one or two notes," he relates. He does not create the music in his head: "We pull those ideas from a very pure prototype, a universal reservoir, where all ideas and concepts come from," David explains. "The interim between that place and yourself is your nervous system."

David approaches his playing as a meditative practice that he has not departed from, regardless of how he manifests himself as a musician on record. Furthermore, "Meditation is not a goal in itself. It is a preparation for a state that you will be able to someday maintain that is beyond meditation. Meditation is a way to get you there. As a musician, I want to be able to manifest a music that is more whole, complete in itself, that don't need anything else, that can change your life."

THREADS is directly tied into this trend of thought--witness the mantra-like bassline of "Sufic Passages," which William Parker hardly strays from through the entire course of the piece. The line is propulsive, driving the piece forward relentlessly, yet there is no move towards an explosive climax. Rather, Guillermo E. Brown absorbs the impact of the energy into his kit as it surges, keeping the musicians focused on that repeating line. Or look to the simple chords and the deceptive sophistication of the melody of "THREADS," where the slowly bowed strings and lush synth weave a dense and beautiful fabric, and texture is just as important as harmonic interplay.

THREADS is more than a convenient title for the music contained within the album. David explains: "Your nerves are like threads--it's a very sophisticated nervous system, one that contains both macrocosmic and microcosmic truth, an idea that comes from the Yogic teachings." David has come into an understanding of these teachings directly, through thirty years of meditating and culturing his musical self, and the awakening that these practices can bring about. "There are formulae, techniques by which you cleanse the passages of the nervous system until you're able to mirror universal essence. When the nervous system is able to operate without the deep stresses and strains, baggage from the past and so on, it is able to reflect better from that reservoir."

From William Parker's slow, sustained bowing at the outset of the album, the subtle textures of the strings are highlighted by David's compositions. The pieces he wrote for THREADS have a deliberate simplicity to them--the emphasis is not on chops, and the album's intensity is not achieved through volume or speed. Rather, the listener is lured into the specific qualities of the sounds as they unfold, and spacious atmospheres are evoked. "Imposing the saxophone on some of those pieces was a distraction, they didn't need it," David says. "Music definitely has a life of its own, you can't plan these things out. I always go with what is there." Asked what it was like to step back from his own music and let his compositions speak through other players, David responds by saying, "It was very enjoyable, it was a new experience for me to sit back and watch a piece come alive. You put it before these guys and it comes alive in ways you couldn't imagine. It becomes what it wants to be."--David S. Ware


We'll just do Ware here; for Parker, cf. my Parker CG.

  • The Cecil Taylor Unit: Dark to Themselves [1976.06.18; Enja 2084: 1977]
  • David S. Ware: Birth of a Being [1977.04.14-15; Hat Hut W: 1979]
  • Beaver Harris: African Drums [1977.05.26; Owl 9: 1977]
  • From Silence to Music [Palm: 1978]
  • The Birth of Being [Hat Hut: 1978]
  • Andrew Cyrille & Maono: Metamusician's Stomp [1978.09.00; Black Saint 120025: 1978]
  • Andrew Cyrille: Special People [1980.10.21-22; Soul Note 121012: 1981]
  • David S. Ware Trio: Passage to Music [1988.04.04-05; Silkheart 117: 1989]
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Great Bliss, Volume 1 [1990.01.08-10; Silkheart 127: 1991]
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Great Bliss, Volume 2 [1990.01.08-10; Silkheart 128: 1991]
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Flight of I [1991.12.10-11; DIW 856: 1992; DIW/Columbia 52956: 1992]
  • David S. Ware: Third Ear Recitation [1992.10.14-15; DIW 870: 1993]
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Earthquation [1994.05.04-05; DIW 892: 1994]
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Cryptology [1994.12.02; Homestead 220: 1995]
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Oblations and Blessings [1995.09.27-28; Silkheart 145: 1996]
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Dao [1995.09.29; Homestead 230: 1996]
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Godspelized [1996.05.02-03; DIW 916: 1997]
  • David S. Ware: Wisdom of Uncertainty [1996.12.02-03; Aum Fidelity 1: 1997]
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Go See the World [1997.12.11-12; Columbia 69138: 1998]
  • David S. Ware: Surrendered [1999.10.20-21; Columbia 63816: 2000]
  • David S. Ware: Live in the Netherlands [Splasc(H): 2001]
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Corridors & Parallels [2001.02.26-27; Aum Fidelity 19: 2001.10.26]
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Freedom Suite [2002.07.13; Aum Fidelity 23: 2002.11.01]
  • The David S. Ware String Ensemble: Threads [Thirsty Ear 57137: 2003]

Total records in list above: 24 (9 in house, 1 from other sources).