Go Tell It on the Mountain

David Ware’s Quartet Demands Overstatement

Ware's forthcoming Corridors & Parallels (the release date is September 18) will be controversial, as it omits one of the quartet's central pleasures—Shipp's piano, sacrificed to the introduction of Ware's Korg synthesizer played by Shipp with settings devised by himself and Ware that range from organ tonalities to hurricane winds to Sun Ra tinkering to funk, Afro-Cuban, and Afro-Afro rhythms. Consisting of eight main selections and three short untitled transitional pieces on which Ware does not appear, the paradoxical net result is a first-rate Ware showcase—even though he makes his first entrance five minutes into the disc. At that point Shipp—in his organ mode—mostly lays out, and tenor, bass, and drums lock down for the relatively conventional, aptly titled "Straight Track," an exuberant instance of Ware's capacity to avoid cliché while upholding passion and clarity. Parker snaps the strings so hard you can almost feel them slap the wood. Shipp returns toward the end, piling on the rhythm, and joining in a nicely abrupt finish.

"Jazz Fi-Sci" is less successful, a disjointed back-and-forth dialogue between tenor and synth that offers a certain gimmicky pleasure, but smacks too much of foreplay interruptus—just when you think Ware will finally take off he halts for a synth interlude. "Superimposed" is a mini Ware festival, boasting an elaborate hoot of a solo, played (without dubbing) against synth rhythms that suggest a whole tribe of percussionists. The euphoric edge is fully extended until the humorous wind-down—Ware sounds as if he's running out of fuel. No less pleasing is "Sound-a-Bye," in which he creates barely mobile melody out of what is essentially a three-minute drone, continuing after the others fade away and then fading himself. It's completely convincing and like nothing else I can think of. More ambitious is "Corridors & Parallels," with its synth whistling, funk, zooming arco bass, and a bristling Ware, who enters like an electric shock and essays a thrillingly upbeat holler of a solo that produces an oddly liturgical feeling—sort of "Ascension" meets "He Loved Him Madly." After its mere eight minutes, you feel washed in the blood of the lamb. Even the layered fade—with Brown's backbeat lingering the longest—works.

"Somewhere" and "Spaces Embraces" are three-minute toss-offs—the first all creaky synth, arco bass, and swirling snares, and the second a vain attempt by Ware to salvage the disc's one meretricious misfire and losing to old-hat sci-fi synth banality. Then he comes roaring back for a masterly performance in his best fire-and-brimstone manner. "Mother May You Rest in Bliss" is both fresh and familiar, built on foundations laid by Rollins and Coltrane, erected anew on Parker's buttressing bowed bass. It's raucous pop gospel, flowing with melody, harmony, and wind chimes. As is often the case, Ware becomes more ardent the longer he goes, the more agitated he becomes. Only the brief rhythm transition disappoints—what you want here is a cannonading Shipp piano solo—but Ware returns for the amen chorus.

Nearly vocalized urgency intensified by a virtuoso attack
photo: Jennifer S. Altman
Nearly vocalized urgency intensified by a virtuoso attack

At the Blue Note, the quartet was its old captivating self, everyone stretching out, each solo a short novel without a single longueur. Working from his usual book, he began with a 30-minute "Surrendered," which opened and closed with Ware's incantatory song and had Shipp kneading the piano in a chordal solo, which led to display work on bass and drums, including a high-hat fantasia. They continued with a fast, intense, and unified "Lexicon" (Go See the World); the very blissed-out "Sentient Compassion" (Third-Ear Recitation), complete with almighty cadenza; and the less blissful but more punctilious set closer, "Bliss Theme" (Great Bliss). Best small band in jazz today.

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