Loud-Blowing Free Jazz Gives in to Subtle String Pleasures


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 quartetmates 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 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.