Hard Bop


Ware It's At

David S. Ware got signed to Columbia earlier this year. All it took was two decades of high-energy, high-quality free jazz, and 14 years behind the wheel of an NYC cab. You thought rockers had it tough.

Roy Haynes at the Vanguard: When he hits his drums, certitude and declaration are in the air.
Hiroyuki Ito
Roy Haynes at the Vanguard: When he hits his drums, certitude and declaration are in the air.

On Sunday, the tenorman—towering, impassive, dressed in a blue wizard's robe—stepped into as much limelight as an avant-gardist can expect: a packed house at Fez. His all-star support—Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass, Susie Ibarra on drums—set up a hypnotic, gently swinging vamp. Ware grooved with them, extended into swooping melody, which he fragmented into a series of furious runs, before blowing it all up into one massive, unwavering scream. One by one his band dropped away from the groove. Ibarra went first, hammering the beat out of shape; then Parker and Shipp grew busier and more abstract. Ware sat down, and the three of them pounded and whispered together for 20 more minutes.

For the rest of the night, the band pushed in every direction (including, at times, nowhere). Ibarra clanked gongs, played her brushes against the air, and engaged Parker in brisk rhythmic chatter; Shipp spread chaos and receded to find lyricism. It was jazz that swallowed all aesthetic distinctions. The quartet's new album, Go See the World, does the same. Bluesy and experimental, it shatters the classic Coltrane sound into new possibilities.

Can this penetrate Uptown, or the mainstream? Unlikely, but there's something here for everyone. Ware goes for extreme sounds, but he also reaches for beauty. On Sunday he led the band through "The Way We Were." He shredded it, turned it in side-out, then came back to give Hamlisch's poor little melody a blast of soul. If he can do that, he can cross any boundary.—Steve Tignor


Clowning Achievement

Those of us who love Chris Knox have learned that we have to put up with certain idiosyncrasies—like the fact that he doesn't know how most of his own songs go. Sunday night at Tonic, the New Zealand pop godfather had lyric and chord sheets for every number, which didn't prevent him from blowing a chord every minute or two, stopping, cursing, cracking some jokes, groping for the right notes, and picking up at whatever peak he'd left off.

As a solo artist (much more than with his long-running duo Tall Dwarfs), Knox is obsessed with pulverizing the mystique of performance. This is why he starts every show by changing into his shorts on stage, why he ceremoniously announces his drum-machine settings, and why his audiences need to watch out for bodily fluids. A new arrangement of "Voyeur" became an excuse for Knox to molest everyone within his headset mike's radius; one unlucky bald gentleman got his head licked.

Most of all, he scribbles all over his own work's polished surfaces. Aside from a couple of death-obsessed new ones that he played straight, song after song flew off track so that Knox could riff about opening for Jonathan Richman, mock his own lyrics and arrangements ("Imagine bag pipes!" he cried), or make up a new American national anthem ("The U.S.A./Is a really really really really really really really good country"). His greatest hit, the immaculate love song "Not Given Lightly," derailed right before its climax into a speech about its discographical history, then a gleeful self-parody about how much money it's made him, and finally a long, improvised jingle about Tonic's need for a liquor license. Knox is a born entertainer, and it's not like his clowning isn't a treat. But his songs deserve more of his respect.—Douglas Wolk


Let's Get Serialist

Dear Beck:

In this document, "Searching High and Low: Long-Term Marketing of the Telephone Plastic," commissioned by you, DGC Records, and Viacom, the Consulting Group likens your arc to that of David Byrne, who led the group Talking Heads, and now performs as a solo artist. In this Appendix, please find the conclusions of a Committee dispatched to Mr. Byrne's recent show at the Knitting Factory, to anticipate the hidden landmines as you grow your brand.

Mr. Byrne performed with the Balanescu Quartet, a serialist string group from Romania, and three musicians (bass, singer, programmer) of indistinct ethnicity. The singer was resplendent in divergence, revisiting and revising nearly every phase of his career in only a dozen songs.

To recap, Mr. Byrne began his arc with high-art castings of low-art elements, including covers of "1, 2, 3, Red Light," an appreciation of K.C. and the Sunshine Band, and an enforced association with Jon Bon Jovi's cousin. After his acclaim on the cover of Time magazine, the low elements waned. His current set thrived when the low elements were most apparent: less in his covers of Cesaria Evora and Karftwerk, and more in a version of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," which clashed teenage desires with the Quartet's harsh, staccato melody lines, and in a reprisal of "Memories Can't Wait," which the Committee agrees describes a bad experience with LSD.

Sneaky calls at the back of the room for Mr. Byrne's early, impactful songs suggest that you can anticipate a lifetime of requests for "Loser." As Mr. Byrne introduced a song he wrote with the Brazilian art singer Caetano Veloso, a fan shouted, "David Fuckin' Byrne"—we again commend the Client for choosing to market under a mononym.

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