David S. Ware is a gutsy tenor saxophonist to tackle a well-known piece like Sonny Rollins' "Freedom Suite," one of the first jazz works written in tribute to the black freedom movement. (Coincidentally, Branford Marsalis also dives into "Freedom Suite" on his new CD, Footsteps of Our Fathers.) This CD has one advantage: Rollins' own 1958 performance of it was abbreviated to half an LP, whereas in 2002 Ware gets to stretch out all he desires. Still, the Rollins trio played on chord changes and focused on themes and straightforward improvisation. By contrast Ware's group plays outside the changes and with dense textures and theatrical climaxes. In a sense this CD takes Rollins' own dramatic musicality to extremes; notice, for instance, how Ware's multiphonics add melodrama to the second theme. Ware's cohorts are pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker and drummer Guillermo E. Brown, and these old friends are naturally sympathetic to the grand manner, even to overstatement.
Ware's phrase shapes are quite varied and have their own intrigue. His sound moves from almost Rollinslike to late-Coltrane harshness. In the second and especially third movements his style is post-Coltrane, with lots of apocalyptic arpeggios, convoluted phrases, squalls, split tones and screams. His solos also meander, so Shipp provides a reality check by beginning his own solos with theme recalls (and the first two themes are striking freedom anthems). Especially in the fourth movement, Shipp offers passages that bud in simple phrases and blossom into long lines, but he also sometimes wanders into unproductive territory, as in the first movement. Brown creates a nice drum solo in the second movement and otherwise is an appropriately florid accompanist, while Parker this time is strictly an accompanist.
It's good music, and I hope Sonny Rollins feels honored by this performance.