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David S. Ware Quartet: Corridors and Parallels

David S. Ware is one of the few leaders in jazz that doesn’t mess with the formula. Throughout the 1990s, the only way to experience Ware (on record at least) was with the David S. Ware Quartet. He has changed drummers a few times and modified the sound of the unit somewhat, but it was always tenor sax, bass, drums and piano. The formula gets recalculated on his two latest releases, however: the quartet date Corridors & Parallels and the solo-sax recording Live in the Netherlands.

Corridors & Parallels is easily the better-and more unexpected-of Ware’s two new records. Corridors breaks down and redefines Ware’s quartet. Matthew Shipp plays synthesizer instead of piano on the CD, and thus the band’s sound is realigned, venturing into Sun Ra’s spaceways. Sometimes Corridors feels like an experiment in progress more than a cohesive idea, but it is still one of his most exciting and intriguing recordings. What has made Ware’s quartet so great in the past, though, is what keeps them strong through this realignment: master musicianship, emotional impact and the band’s ability to utilize space and silence. The long-developed relationship between Ware, Shipp, bassist William Parker and drummer Guillermo E. Brown enables them to venture easily into new territory.

Shipp employs programmed beats, sampled sounds and droning tones in various ways through the album’s 11 tracks that straddle an uncomfortable line. When the synthesizer beats dominate, it causes serious discord. It disrupts the cohesiveness of the album and the band’s organic spirit as the jungleish programmed beats of “Superimposed” and the R2D2-ness of “Jazz Fi-Sci” clash with the other pieces that do not employ the pulsing rhythms. But on tracks where the programmed beats are brought into balance, like “Straight Track” and “Sound-a-Bye,” the synthesizer and other instruments are in joyous harmony; they are excellent pieces that retain the Ware group’s emotional power. In contrast to the electronic experiments on Corridors, “Mother May You Rest in Bliss,” a tender ballad dedicated to Ware’s mother, towers above all the other tracks, and is one of the most beautiful compositions in his catalog.

From synths to sax alone, Live in the Netherlands is Ware’s first solo record. For a decade, the David S. Ware Quartet has been one of the best bands in jazz because it is, in fact, a band. Ware has always let Parker and Shipp shine within the group, and he has perfect timing, knowing when to bow out or come in to a piece. Alone on stage, Ware’s brilliant sense of timing is minimized. He sounds comfortable here, playing confidently and boldly, but his playing isn’t as effective as when he plays with his group.

Live was recorded at the Zuid-Nederlands Jazz Festival in 1997, around the time of such Ware Quartet records as Godspelized (DIW) and Wisdom of Uncertainty (AUM Fidelity). All four of Live’s pieces are based on the heavy, arduous solos he was blowing on those records, but some also hint at Ware’s aptitude for more reserved playing. “6th Dimensional” is a great testimony to what Ware can breathe into a saxophone, but without any interaction with musicians, Ware’s natural aptitude as a leader cannot make itself apparent.

Originally Published