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David S. Ware/Planetary Unknown : Live At Jazzfestival Saalfelden 2011

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One of the bigger surprises in the avant-jazz world in 2011 was the resurgence of drummer Muhammad Ali in Planetary Unknown, the new quartet led by tenor saxophonist David S. Ware. For the first time since 1983, a recording boasted the thunderous percussion of Ali, whose work with Frank Wright, Albert Ayler and Noah Howard matched the power of Elvin Jones with the fluidity of Sunny Murray. Other than a 2006 Philadelphia date with Dave Burrell, Reggie Workman and brother Rashied, and a gig subbing for his brother in By Any Means at the 2009 Newport Jazz Festival, Muhammad had languished in obscurity until Ware requested his services.

Planetary Unknown (rounded out by bassist William Parker and pianist Cooper-Moore) incontrovertibly bases its collective caterwauling on Wright’s early ’70s groups (which were themselves directly spawned from Ayler), so it makes perfect sense for Muhammad Ali to be the rhythmic propeller. The question, of course, was if Ali could still be the glue amidst a hurricane of high-energy and high-density sound, and this live performance in Austria, from Aug. 27, 2011, is the proof that he’s barely skipped a beat. In fact, if anything, Ali exhibits an admirable sense of subtlety rarely heard in his previous playing.

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