David S. Ware could never be accused of following trends. If saxophone-led trios are all the rage, his release of a sax/bass/drums album feels coincidental. Either way, though, Onecept is among the best of that recent lot. Backed by bassist William Parker and drummer Warren Smith, the avant-garde icon alternates between tenor sax, stritch and saxello in an inspired turn that overflows with Ware’s usual passion, plus some fine invention and interplay.
Intended to evoke separate streams of consciousness, Ware’s three horns serve different purposes. The tenor signifies aggression, wailing through “Wheel of Life” and “Bardo” with force and imperative, the latter scarily so: It’s like a soundtrack to a personal hell, if an effective and compelling one. The quavering stritch—a straight alto sax without an upturned bell—finds Ware in melodic mode, finding tunes via linear serendipity (“Book of Krittika”) as well as repetition (the chantlike “Anagami”). Saxello—a B-flat soprano sax with a slightly curved neck—plays ego to tenor’s id and stritch’s superego, balancing chaos and melody on the playful “Desire Worlds” and joyous-if-tentative “Vata.” However, “Savaka,” while nicely featuring the instrument’s snake-charmer-isms, noodles aimlessly and without much engagement. Thankfully it’s an anomaly.
The rhythm section plays an enormous part in Onecept’s success. Parker’s bass is crucial, more counterpoint than accompaniment with his melodic figures (“Book of Krittika”) but evasive on the long centerpiece, “Astral Earth,” working only to anchor the harmony. Smith, who also plays gongs and timpani, is both colorist and rhythmic dynamo, and with his press rolls and stops on “Celestial,” proves an inventive and intuitive foil—perhaps the saxophonist’s best drummer ever. More from this trio, please.