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The David S. Ware Quartets: Live in the World

Until now saxophonist David S. Ware had never released a live album. Perhaps to make up for lost time, he’s made this first one big. Maybe too big. On this bloviated three-CD collection Ware is joined by the usual suspects-bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp-plus a trifecta of drummers: Susie Ibarra, Hamid Drake and Guillermo E. Brown. As you’d expect from such an enormous project, the results are mixed.

Like every Ware album, Live has transcendent moments; it also has a few cringe-inducing ones. And sometimes the two come backto-back. Take the group’s interpretation of that ’70s kitsch classic “The Way We Were”-please. The track begins well, as Ware plays unaccompanied for eight minutes, doing his expressionist-with-monster-chops thing, rendering the tune all but indistinguishable. Toward the end of his solo, however, the melody rears its maudlin head, and Shipp milks it for all the schmaltz it’s worth. His take is not amusingly ironic or deeply felt, just hotel-piano-bar tacky. He goes “out” on it in fairly short order, but the damage is done.

Ware needs a swinging drummer, which makes Ibarra’s contributions problematic. While she’s a nice free player, Ibarra isn’t much of a swinger. But the quality of drumming-and the overall level of performance-improves on discs two and three, as Hamid Drake and then Guillermo E. Brown climb aboard. A drummer who can be simultaneously subtle and powerful is a rare bird. Drake is that, and more. He grooves and plays free, marvelously and seamlessly. Brown is similar; he can swing hard and also mix it up in the free blows. Though he is ill-served by an inferior recording quality, Brown’s playing on disc three’s version of Sonny Rollins’ “Freedom Suite” is strong.

Ware is uniformly intense, but Brown and Drake drive him to more interesting places than does Ibarra. Although many overrate them, Shipp and Parker are fine musicians. Yet Shipp too often alternates graceless, sustain-pedal-to-the metal banging with saccharine rhapsodizing, and his excesses make large swaths of this album nearly unlistenable.

Originally Published