Cellular Chaos

Local no wave skronk-mongers Cellular Chaos are the real effin’ deal: Improvising extremist Weasel Walter slings the most criminally underrated shred ax on the Brooklyn DIY scene, 63 year-old jazz vet and drum-thwacking dinosaur Marc Edwards (dude has backed David S. Ware and Cecil Taylor) mans the destructive kit, and front-lady colossus Admiral Gray stands front and center, hooting, hollering, whooping, screaming, kicking, and sliding amidst the glorious din. It’s no wonder iconoclastic no wave goddess Lydia Lunch is a fan. Tonight, the band celebrates the release of their self-titled debut, ugEXPLODE. Get ready for serious rip-faced action.

Sun., Oct. 27, 8 p.m., 2013


Grass Roots

For 16 years, Brooklyn’s AUM Fidelity label has unleashed glorious throngs of otherworldly music, presenting New York’s avant-garde jazz royalty like David S. Ware, William Parker, and Matthew Shipp. Now, Grass Roots can be added to its paramount stable, and tonight, the Herculean quartet—featuring dueling sax masters Darius Jones and Alex Harding, bassist Sean Conley, and drummer Chad Taylor—celebrate the release of their self-titled debut. Like the gurus they are, Grass Roots effortlessly bounce from epic blues-‘n’-soul throb, swinging bebop, improvisational wizardry and chaotic skronking, sometimes all within the same composition.

Thu., Dec. 13, 7 & 8:30 p.m., 2012


Tenor Uncertainty

What does it say about the current state of jazz that this fall’s most eagerly anticipated “new” release is a Miles Davis concert package from 1966? (The only real competition is a Sonny Rollins largely drawn from last year’s 80th-birthday celebration and documenting his encounter with fellow octogenarian Ornette Coleman; a live Coltrane from 1967 has been postponed indefinitely, or it, too, would be in the running.) Possibly just that jazz has veered in so many different directions since the period represented by these latest artifacts—and its cognoscenti has splintered into so many distrustful camps—that their appeal is greatly intensified by a longing for something resembling yesterday’s near-unanimity of opinion regarding which figures were worth following wherever their muses and the zeitgeist took them.

There’s no consensus anymore. Take the question of who from the generation of tenor saxophonists after his stands next in line behind Rollins. Poll results suggest Joe Lovano, and the crowd leaving the Village Vanguard on any given night would probably agree. But the answer at the Stone—farther east, farther downtown, and farther out—might be David S. Ware. David Murray and James Carter would likely receive scattered mentions elsewhere, and advocates of European free improvisation would no doubt back their own nominees.

Maybe a failure to strike consensus is good news. Not even counting Rollins’s Road Shows, Vol. 2, which having annotated disqualifies me from reviewing, this has been a banner year for releases by tenor saxophonists, including those named above. These albums showcase an impressive diversity of post-bop approaches—and indicate that uncertainty over who is top dog could be a sign of strength across the board.

James Carter

Caribbean Rhapsody


So zesty I pity anyone who passes it by on account of a categorical aversion to jazz-and-classical hyphenates. A clue to what’s going on in Roberto Sierra’s “Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra” (“saxophones” plural; Carter doubles on tenor and soprano) comes from spotting Krzysztof Penderecki listed as artistic director of the accompanying Sinfonia Varsovia. A Webern disciple early in his career, and then a follower of Stockhausen and Cage in turn, Penderecki re-embraced tonality in a big way in the late 1970s, signaling a shift among European composers that gradually influenced orchestra commissions and university hirings here. For all its peppery dissonances and Latin rhythms (reflecting the Ithaca-based Sierra’s Puerto Rican heritage), the “Concerto” is neo-romanticism writ large, demanding of us only that we take pleasure in its full-range symphonics and its featured soloist’s virtuosity—and because Carter’s virtuosity is so boundless, and his passions so brimming, the pleasure is immense. The title piece—featuring Carter’s horns and his cousin Regina’s violin, abetted by string quartet and walking bass—is more modest in scale but every bit as diverting, beginning as a bolero and ending in the pocket, with a ballad interlude and plenty of snappy call-and-response from the Carters in between. Even if a pair of unaccompanied sax solos seems like filler, the album amounts to a career milestone for a problematic figure who hasn’t always chosen his special projects so tastefully.

James Carter Organ Trio

At the Crossroads


I won’t point to this because it’s by an ongoing combo of Carter’s—and because though Carter never raises his Detroit-based bandmates and a bevy of added starters to his own level, he doesn’t sink to theirs, either. Even if he occasionally embraces their which-way-back-to-the-chicken-shack clichés, they’re no longer clichés by the time he’s done with them. “Lettuce Toss Yo Salad” and a cover of Julius Hemphill’s “The Hard Blues” (fast becoming a standard) demonstrate that he can walk the bar with the best of them, and both sport astonishing tonal and harmonic zigzags. And his barrel-chested balladry on the obscure Sarah McLawler’s “My Whole Life Through” is worthy of comparison to Ike Quebec or maybe even Ben Webster. Organist Gerard Gibbs is redeemed when the band goes back to church on “‘Tis the Old Ship of Zion” and Ellington’s “Come Sunday.”

Joe Lovano/Us Five

Bird Songs

(Blue Note)

The Jazz Journalists Association has already named this Charlie Parker tribute its Album of the Year, but this member thinks it fails to confront a problem inherent to its genre. For Parker, as for most in his bebop cohort (the exceptions begin with Tadd Dameron, and we’ll quibble about Monk another time), basing “originals” on Tin Pan Alley chord changes and stock blues licks wasn’t just a way of creating springboards for improvisation; it was a form of improvisation in itself. Doesn’t giving new spins to Parker’s tunes—playing “Donna Lee” as a ballad, for example—risk missing the point? That said, “Yardbird Suite” slowed down to a midnight blues wail proves a perfect vehicle for Lovano’s tenor (though I wish he’d left his secondary, higher-pitched horns—his shrill autochrome, especially—at home), the band’s two drummers (Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela) crisscross each other’s beats nicely, and I might get the fuss over Esperanza Spalding if all I had to go on were her mobile bass lines here and on Lovano’s 2009 Folk Art.

David Murray Cuban Ensemble

Plays Nat King Cole en Español

(3D Family/Universal)

At the height of the cocktail/bachelor pad mini-craze about 15 years ago, the pop critic Milo Miles sneered that something could be considered hip simply because it didn’t used to be. Today’s evidence of decay seems to be the flurry of doppelgänger tribute albums honoring even the most negligible of yesterday’s releases. But this fanciful tip of the cap to the pair of Spanish-language LPs Cole recorded in Havana a split second before the revolution both proves Murray’s ingenuity as an arranger and sends you back to the originals to hear if you misjudged them. A revisit proved initial impressions to be correct; singing in a foreign tongue robbed Cole’s phrasing of its usual confidence. This isn’t a problem for Murray’s tenor sax and bass clarinet; he also smartly eliminates the Latinate MOR that Cole included as a sop to Anglo squares (“Vaya Con Dios” and the like) in favor of the gorgeous (and subsequently forgotten) originals the singer and his arranger Nelson Riddle commissioned from the era’s foremost Cuban and Mexican composers. Daniel Melingo’s two vocal turns are as guttural in delivery as Cole’s were smooth, which only enhances this unlikely program’s surprising originality.

David S. Ware/Cooper-Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali

Planetary Unknown

(Aum Fidelity)

Though not yet a match for Ware’s ’90s quartet with Matthew Shipp, this new unit boasts many of the same virtues—beginning with another pianist (Cooper-Moore) whose earth-gouging solos and akimbo comping throw Ware’s headlong cosmic assaults into bold relief. Ware is blowing full-throttle on tenor again following his kidney transplant, and displaying increased facility (along with his usual rugged tenderness) on both of his ancillary horns, sopranino and stritch.

So much for the recognized challengers. Next time: up-and-comers, long shots, and a few out-of-towners.


Smashing Jazzheads on the Punk Rock with AUM Fidelity

‘My concept of a label came from SST Records in high school when I was getting into punk rock,” explains Steven Joerg, owner, operator, and sole employee of the Brooklyn-based “jazz-forward” label AUM Fidelity. “My introduction to them was when I got The Blasting Concept compilation with the [Raymond] Pettibon drawing on the cover. I was like, ‘What the fuck? Whoa.’ “

Pettibon’s trademark grisly art—a scrawl of a scuzzball dude choking the life from a chick sprawled naked below him—both epitomized Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn’s ’80s Amerindie institution and imprinted the jolting imprint of its DIY aesthetic on Joerg’s psyche. Sixteen years have passed since he launched AUM Fidelity after selling his car and half of his record collection, not to mention liquidating his savings and taking out a loan. He has remained as staunchly independent and music-driven as SST was to this day. “I was all about introducing this work to the world,” he recalls. “It was about having worldwide distribution and recording amazing albums. And that remains the main thing I do.”

Avant-garde legend John Zorn personally tabbed Joerg to curate his Avenue C experimental and avant-garde nest the Stone for the second half of June. AUM Fidelity’s stacked roster of jazz visionaries, including saxman David S. Ware and the revelatory duo of rising sax virtuoso Darius Jones and the veteran pianist Matthew Shipp, will set the tiny space ablaze during the course of the month.

Joerg first honed his chops at Bar/None Records before landing at Homestead as label manager in 1992, when it possessed a trailblazer-stacked roster (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and Big Black). Upon arrival, Joerg, who was “not a jazz historian but certainly well-versed in its history,” set forth a radical vision—integrating jazz on a predominantly indie-rock imprint—that sent him on what he calls, quite seriously, a “mission from God.”

“It started with [free jazz drummer] William Hooker, actually,” Joerg explains. “That was the initial entrée. William was playing with Thurston [Moore] and Lee [Ranaldo] in the rock clubs and going in that realm. William sent me a postcard in the mail—very old-school. He wrote, ‘Hey, how can I present something that Homestead could put out?’ I sent him a postcard back saying, ‘Yeah, send me a tape, certainly.’ I was familiar with him and seen him a few times. And the tape he sent me became the album that came out: Radiation.”

That cataclysmic free-improv shredder came out in 1994, and AUM Fidelity slowly came to be after that. First, Joerg forged relationships with the then-obscure triumvirate of Ware, William Parker (bass), and Shipp. “Matt had a duet record with William on a Texas punk-rock label which had a distro deal with Dutch East,” Joerg recalls. “He was in the office on a regular basis, dropping off presses and saying ‘hey’ to the Dutch East salespeople—hustling, basically. So I got to know Matt that way. He knew I put out the Hooker record. One day, Matt came in and gave me a David S. Ware Quartet record, Third Ear Recitation. I went home, listened to it, and was completely bowled over.”

After hitting the Knitting Factory on Houston to see the Ware Quartet, Joerg was sold. “I saw them two weeks later and when first meeting David, I was nervous because he’s an imposing individual, artistically and being a big dude,” he reminisces. “Seeing him play live, I was blown away; it was one of the greatest musical experiences I’ve had.” Alas, he faced a tough sell to Homestead’s upper echelon. “The idea of signing the Ware Quartet was a bit of a stretch, but I convinced them. The first record we did—Cryptology—ended up being the lead review in Rolling Stone.”

Joerg left Homestead in 1996, and the next year AUM released the Ware Quartet’s Wisdom of Uncertainty, then Parker’s Sunrise in the Tone World. “I knew I wanted to do my own thing, focus on this jazz music and these artists,” says Joerg. “It was a big leap, but I was completely moved by the music.” Parker was an instant convert to Joerg’s artist-friendly, split-profits philosophy that was born from his punk-rock lineage, and the antithesis of the business models used by vanguard jazz labels such as Impulse! or ESP-Disk.

“During the ’70s, it was hard to find a record company interested in my music,” Parker explains via email. “I was a New York musician, and some of us were labeled hardcore avant-garde. So we put out our own recordings. But underneath, I knew it was the musician’s job to play music and the job of the record company to produce, sell, and distribute the music on the same level as the music itself. Steven Joerg does just that: record the music with compassion. He overlooks each aspect of the process: from the artwork which he designs, to distribution and to the bookkeeping, which is a very important part of the process. I can totally trust him and consider him an extra member of the band.”

Joerg’s modest persona results in him squirming when he has to talk about himself. He’d rather discuss AUM’s newest releases: Farmers by Nature, a full-on improv unit led by the shape-shifting pianist Craig Taborn whose compositions juxtapose frenetic maelstroms and subtle nuances; the strident tenor blast of Planetary Unknown, featuring Ware’s first-ever collaboration with Cooper-Moore and the recorded debut of late drums legend Rashied Ali’s brother, Mohammed Ali; and Cosmic Lieder, Jones’s and Shipp’s otherworldly, soul-searching melding of alto sax and piano.

Most of these pioneering avant-gardists will be gracing the Stone’s storied, mangy floor (on which Yoko fuckin’ Ono writhed just weeks ago), as will improv guitar-picking purveyor Joe Morris, the furious punk-jazz terrorists Little Women (with Jones), and silky jazz-funk troupe Mike Pride’s From Bacteria to Boys (with Jones, yet again). Joerg happened upon the omnipresent, talented Jones (who will be playing no fewer than three projects at the Stone) at the Williamsburg music pub Zebulon, something for which the fledgling alto composer is forever grateful. “Personally and professionally, Steven has been a blessing to me. When he first approached me to be a part of AUM, I had no idea what that would look like,” Jones says via email. “After recording my debut Man’ish Boy with him, I realized I had found a friend and that necessary element to help my musical career blossom.”

Joints like Park Slope’s multicultural music nook Barbès, Gowanus’s experimental haven Issue Project Room, and performance/art space Littlefield book Joerg’s stable of musicians regularly. “Yes, I’ve played a role in getting the music world to know Ware and Parker,” says Joerg. “But as far as creating a ‘scene’? No. I’m happy to have been there at the right place and right time and been inspired to take action to introduce ‘Jazz Now.’ Every-body who loves music loves some part of Coltrane, right? I wanted to introduce people to these men and that remains the reality: These giants walk among us now, and you got to fucking pay attention.”

AUM Fidelity’s Steven Joerg curates the Stone June 16 through 30


Jazz Consumer Guide: Chasing Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, or Something Else Entirely

Houston Person
The Art & Soul of Houston Person [1996–2008]
[High Note]

Joe Fields recorded Person’s debut at Prestige in 1966. When Fields
moved on to found the Muse and High Note labels, Person was his first
hire: a slow-moving, easy-swinging soul man, so consistent that the
biggest problem has been differentiating between his albums. This
three-CD set settles that: Thirty classic songs from a dozen mature
albums sum him up perfectly. Irresistible for anyone with a taste for
tenor sax and a sense of jazz’s grand historical arc. A

Randy Sandke
Unconventional Wisdom

So rooted in tradition that he named his son Bix, so postmodern that
he conceived two of his best albums as Inside Out and Outside In. This
one covers all the bases, with his originals fitting seamlessly among
standards from Berlin, Porter, and Carmichael, alongside scattered
threads from Debussy to Jobim to Bill Evans. Bassist Nicki Parrott adds
charming vocals on four tracks, guitarist Howard Alden provides elegant
support, and Sandke plays some of the hottest trumpet of his career.

Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin
[Ronin Rhythm]

Repetitive rhythms are so fundamental to Bärtsch’s aesthetic
that he even overdubs his Piano Solo album, one of six albums of
“Ritual Groove Music” that predate his two more luxurious ECM releases.
The albums are all of a piece—the first two less consistent,
Live punchier, AER more refined—but this one, the
fifth, is sublime, its simple, shifting rhythmic figures building
imperceptibly to gratifying climaxes. A

The Gust Spenos Quartet
Swing Theory 

[Swing Theory]

A sax-toting neurologist from Indianapolis juices up his moonlighting
 quartet with guests like trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and gravelly vocalist 
Everett Greene. The latter’s two cuts are slow to let the personality take
 over from the voice, but the band swings Berlin-to-Gillespie standards with
 such authority that they may have a theory hiding amid the math. A MINUS

Jerry Bergonzi
Tenor Talk

A Boston-bred mainstream tenor saxophonist with a minor in Coltrane
and a dozen solid-plus albums to his credit turns it up a notch, if
only to keep a step ahead of the young, hitherto-unknown Italians in
his band: Renato Chicco on piano and Andrea Michelutti on drums. A

Kenny Garrett
Sketches of MD
[Mack Avenue]

Garrett’s first live album is a nod to Miles Davis, who hired him at
the crossroads of their careers. Would be no big deal, but he crosses
late-Miles funk with the orgiastic Coltrane-isms that Miles missed out
on. Better still, he gets Pharoah Sanders to deliver them in person. A

Kris Davis
Rye Eclipse
[Fresh Sound New Talent]

A contest of daredevils. From the beginning, tenor saxophonist Tony
Malaby gave her group a rough edge, but three albums in, they’ve all
caught the bug. Bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis pull the
rhythm apart at the seams, and the pianist-leader plunges in with rough
block chords, but the trade-offs can be intricate, as in “Wayne Oskar,”
when the piano leads into intriguing abstractions, then backs off as
Malaby finishes the thought. A MINUS

Rudresh Mahanthappa

Like Jason Kao Hwang, Mahanthappa is one of a growing cadre of
second-generation Americans who’ve gone back to study their ancestral
culture for clues to moving forward. His previous efforts smeared
Indian effects atop his Coltrane-isms, but this time, he starts with
the masters—most important, Kadri Gopalnath, who did the hard
work of translating Indian classical music to alto sax, a solid
foundation on which to build rich textures. A MINUS

Donny McCaslin Trio
Recommended Tools
[Greenleaf Music]

Long a rising tenor-sax star, he finally strips down to a format
where his chops break away from his post-bop ambitions—like he’s
strayed from Chris Potter’s footsteps to chase after Sonny Rollins. A

Mostly Other People Do the Killing
This Is Our Moosic
[Hot Cup]

Moving forward in history from their bebop terrorism, Moppa
Elliott’s gang appropriates his home turf of Moosic, Pennsylvania, to
play on and around Ornette Coleman. Often sounds like a deranged New
Orleans brass band, sometimes even breaking into melody. A MINUS

Soprano Summit
In 1975 and More [1975–79]

Kenny Davern and Bob Wilber formed their double–soprano sax
group in 1972, met frequently through the end of the decade, and held
occasional reunions as late as 2001. Sidney Bechet was their obvious
focus, but these archives include a session devoted to Jelly Roll
Morton, and two non-summits: a Davern clarinet trio and a Wilber group
with Ruby Braff. A MINUS

Bill Frisell
History, Mystery

The string quartet at the heart of Frisell’s latest revision of
classical Americana—all name jazz musicians—forms the sea
that his guitar swims through, occasionally rising up in wonder. They
go to Sam Cooke for inspiration and Mali for blues—and check
tunes by Monk and Konitz—but those are merely outposts, as
Frisell’s writing subsumes all before it. Greg Tardy’s sax and Ron
Miles’s cornet are rare enough to be treats. A MINUS

David S. Ware
[AUM Fidelity]


A new quartet, with guitarist Joe Morris the second seed. The Indian
motifs are part of Ware’s spiritual quest, but when he plays, it’s hard
to escape the here and now. While most tenor saxophonists try to sound
like John Coltrane, Ware has simply lived the life, finding his own
unique way, elevating everyone around him. A MINUS

Cassandra Wilson
[Blue Note]

After numerous attempts to modernize the songbook and capitalize on
a deep voice invoking Vaughan-Carter-Lincoln, she retreats into a
scattered set of old songs and comes up with her most satisfying album.
It’s all in the details: the Jason Moran piano that drives “Caravan,”
the upbeat sass of “St. James Infirmary,” and the way she wraps her
voice around Reginald Veal’s solo bass on “The Very Thought of You.” A

Honorable Mentions

The Microscopic Septet
Lobster Leaps In

Vintage postmoderns regroup for a rousing round of trad jazz in a
tradition wholly their own.

Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things
[482 Music]

Drummer-led freebop, with two racing saxes invoking the late-’50s
Chicago underground, and flying off.

Scott DuBois

Guitarist-driven vehicle—steady enough to keep avant-saxman
Gebhard Ullmann on track, wild enough to get him excited.

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition

With Pakistani-American guitarist Rez Abbasi, both sides are over the
conflict, and world-class tabla player Dan Weiss is way beyond.

Maurice Horsthuis
Elastic Jargon
[Data ]

Music for many strings, including bass and guitar, the tone more
classical than jazz but fresh nonetheless.

Bob Mover
It Amazes Me . . .

Slow, smoky ballads, lustrous sax, Kenny Barron accompaniment, and
improbably touching vocals.

Martial Solal Trio
Longitude [CAM Jazz]

Eighty-year-old freebop pianist walks on the wild side.

The Beautiful Enabler
[Clean Feed]

Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway, grads of Anthony Braxton’s ’80s
quartet, audition a new saxophonist: Rudresh Mahanthappa.

Charles Lloyd Quartet
Rabo de Nube

A lonely voice crying over a prickly bed of Jason Moran piano.

Collision (Duck)

Two-thirds Bad Plus and cellist Hank Roberts skewing the groove, Tim
Berne’s alto sax bowling over and ducking under.

Corey Wilkes
Drop It

The hot young trumpet out of Chicago, funkier than that mosquita’s

Torben Waldorff

Special award for best performance by Donny McCaslin in a supporting

Bill Easley
Business Man’s Bounce
[18th & Vine]

An old-fashioned tenor sax honks, bops, pitches woo, and wisecracks
over Nat Cole.

Steve Lehman Quartet
[Clean Feed]

“For Evan Parker” strikes me as a parody, a little joke at the end of a
live, vibrant sax-trumpet parry.

Jim Hall & Bill Frisell

Intricate, intimate guitar duets, subtle and silky, with an extra
quartet disc to celebrate.

Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet

Dense Vijay Iyer–led background, shredded by razor-sharp

Sheila Jordan
Winter Sunshine
[Justin Time]

At 79, still the fan, reminiscing about her girlhood crush on Bird,
wishing she could scat like Ella.

Ernestine Anderson
A Song for You
[High Note]

One of Johnny Otis’s chick singers, stillswinging at 80; who wouldn’t,
with HoustonPerson pitching woo?

Ryan Blotnick
Music Needs You


Cool postbop guitar and suave Pete Robbins alto sax, sneaky and just a tad

Brazilian Trio


Helio Alves, Nilson Matta, Duduka Da Fonseca: names that needn’t hide behind 
a flag—not least because their piano jazz doesn’t betray a single Brazilian

Júlio Resende
Da Alma

[Clean Feed]

Soul jazz from Portugal, dreamy flights of fancy tethered to wide-awake 

Jerry Bergonzi


Solid as ever, with John Abercrombie’s guitar a classy diversion.

Grace Kelly/Lee Konitz

[Pazz Productions]

Prodigy entertains world-class group, holds her own as they play

Kenny Davern/Ken Peplowski


A Clarinet Summit, the double-your-pleasure theme extended by pairing Howard
 Alden and James Chirillo on banjo and guitar.

Lee Konitz & Minsarah
Deep Lee


Past 80, Konitz continues to play difficult music with delicate aplomb, 
backed by Florian Weber’s fine piano trio.

Harry Whitaker
One Who Sees All Things [1981­82]


Avant-fusion, reverting to the true radicalism of bebop.

Bryan Beninghove
Organ Trio

[CD Baby]

Honking sax, greasy organ, loud drums—a throwback to ’60s Newark.

Tobias Gebb & Trio West
An Upper Westside Story

[Yummy House]

Witty, drummer-led piano trio fill in spaces between stand-out guests Joel
 Frahm and Champian Fulton.

Duke Robillard
A Swingin’ Session With Duke Robillard

[Stony Plain]

Blues journeyman swings and grins his way through r&b joints, tickled by 
post-Dixieland horns.

Every Woman Is a Tree 

[Clean Feed]

Swedish sextet, full of sharp angles with rough edges, three horns slugging
 it out, and vibes like the sound of breaking glass.

Mike Reed’s Loose Assembly
The Speed of Change 

[482 Music]

Drummer-led postbop, with alto sax, cello, and vibes for a light, trippy 

Bobo Stenson Trio


Triangulating Silvio Rodriguez, Alban Berg, and Ornette Coleman—into 
something else.



Bill Dixon
17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur
[AUM Fidelity]

Poor Darfur: You don’t know whether to cry, vent, or slump into a
stupor. B

The Bad Plus
For All I Care
[Heads Up]

Semi-simple variations reduced to a numb, disintegrating torpor by a
singer loaded on lithium. B MINUS

Jon Hassell
Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street

But did it really happen if no one was conscious enough to notice? B


Skronk On

2007 seemed like kind of a middling year for jazz, upon casual reflection. The big deaths—Andrew Hill, Oscar Peterson, and Max Roach—were losses keenly felt in my house. But other than mourning, there didn’t seem to be as much going on with the music as there was with my other favorite genre, metal. (Chicago’s Yakuza once again blended both—and threw in some other stuff, too—on their third full-length, Transmutations.) After some thought, though, I recalled 10 better-than-decent releases deserving, as jazz CDs so often do, a wider hearing.

Fred Anderson’s been playing with Hamid Drake since the drummer was a teen, but their latest collaboration, From the River to the Ocean, is a high-water mark in the saxophonist’s discography. The ensemble drags the leader out of his comfort zone and into sonic regions previously explored by Pharoah Sanders in the early ’70s, chanting and all. Guitarist and producer David Torn, on the other hand, is definitely living in 2007, if not 2017. Prezens combines a laptop aesthetic with bluesy, skronky blowing from Tim Berne: easily one of the most exhilarating ECM releases in some time.

Whispery Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen impressed me twice, with his third solo album Strjon, and then with 8, the moody, monolithic latest from his group Supersilent. Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and husband Natsuki Tamura danced dissonantly all over When We Were There, bolstered by bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black. David S. Ware bid farewell to his long-running quartet with the magisterial Renunciation, recorded live at the 2006 Vision Festival. And Ware’s pianist for over 15 years, Matthew Shipp, offered Piano Vortex, his first acoustic trio album in a long while and his first studio disc, period, with a bassist other than William Parker present (Joe Morris held things down quite ably).

Former ’60s firebrand Jacques Coursil returned with his second comeback disc,
, a study for solo trumpet and synth strings, plus highly political spoken-word texts by Frantz Fanon and others. The track titles on Other Dimensions in Music’s double disc, Live at the Sunset, occasionally overdosed on politics—”Blues for Baghdad,” “New Millennium Chaos (The Bush Reign of Terror)”—but the breathtaking, hard-swinging interplay between trumpeter Roy Campbell, saxophonist Daniel Carter, bassist Parker, and Hamid Drake on drums was the selling point. Finally, New York’s most Afrolistic jazz/funk/metal/New Music improvising ensemble, Burnt Sugar (featuring the Voice‘s own Greg Tate), released Live From Minnegiggle Falls, a swirling 2004 live date that displayed all the power, introspection, and limitless imaginative potential of their best work.

Of course, the reissue of the year was Miles Davis’s Complete “On the Corner” Sessions, but nobody should ignore Andrew Hill’s churning, furious Compulsion or Noah Howard’s legendary, too-long-gone The Black Ark, both of which reappeared this year. As did Borbetomagus’s Live in Allentown, a masterpiece of rip-roaring free-skree-plus-electronics that I couldn’t vote for in the poll because an encomium I published in The Wire was borrowed by the band for the liner notes.


Free at Last

I didn’t disband the group,” says saxophonist David S. Ware by phone from his home in Plainfield, N.J. “We came off tour in Europe two months ago.” There’s been some confusion of late, see, because a recent live album, Renunciation (AUM Fidelity), documents last year’s final U.S. performance by the David S. Ware Quartet, one of the longest-running groups in New York free jazz. He says the group will reconvene for European festivals or one-offs if the money’s right, but his bandmates seem comfortable with the idea of moving on to the next step in their individual musical journeys. And as far as American audiences are concerned, the David S. Ware Quartet is no more, period.

Ware claims not to see what the big deal is. “We don’t work in America anyway,” he says. “I coulda said that a long time ago. We almost never work in America—America’s such a superficial place, full of superficial people. It doesn’t even matter.”

But to some of us, it does. Throughout the 1990s, the Ware quartet was one of the highest-profile and most admired groups in the jazz avant-garde. Releasing two albums on Columbia Jazz and 16 others on labels like AUM Fidelity, Silkheart, Homestead, and Thirsty Ear, they played the festival circuit and indie-rock venues alike, opening for Sonic Youth as easily as for Cecil Taylor.

Their music carried the innovations of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler, and Pharoah Sanders into the future, with extended, ecstatic solos atop jagged, singsong melodies and subtle, ever-shifting rhythms. Ware is a total master of his instrument, able to make the tenor saxophone scream like a raging bull elephant, or play tender, resonant ballads like a bear singing lullabies to its cubs. He’s also surrounded himself with equally accomplished cohorts. Each of the group’s members—pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker, and a string of drummers including Marc Edwards, Whit Dickey, Susie Ibarra, and finally Guillermo Brown—built solo careers at least in part because of the quartet’s sterling reputation. And when they would all reconvene, particularly at the annual Vision Festival downtown, they were an all-star team without peer. For a while, it seemed like they were the group that could bring free jazz to a public prominence it hadn’t enjoyed since the 1960s—and that without them, the scene might shrivel into total insularity, the same dozen groups playing to the same few dozen diehards every year.

But Ware shrugs off such matters. “I don’t even think about that,” he says of his importance to New York’s avant-garde. “You guys figure that out. It’s not for me to ponder. I don’t follow the scene anyway. I didn’t hang out in New York even when I was living in New York [in the 1970s]. It’s just not me.”

Matthew Shipp agrees. “[David’s] a staunch individualist and resents being seen as part of a scene,” he says. “To me, people you think of as stereotypical Vision Fest acts are people like [drummer] Milford Graves.” He doesn’t attach much significance to last year’s farewell show, either. “Patricia [Nicholson-Parker, wife of Ware Quartet bassist William Parker and driving force behind the Vision Festival] said if you’re going to do a last American performance, why not do it at the Vision Fest? And [retiring the band] was just loose talk before that, but the gig came about and got defined that way, and then that’s what ended up happening.”

Ware has tried to be very clear about his intentions. Renunciation‘s liner notes, by the saxophonist himself, begin, “First of all, I would like it to be clearly understood that I am in no way renouncing the work of the David S. Ware Quartet.” Renunciation, to Ware, is a spiritual condition—he’s referring to renouncing the world and allowing the power of music to take him over and use him as a channel. The performance documented on the CD surely reflects that, while dramatizing the end of this stage of Ware’s journey. The group revisits old compositions (“Mikuro’s Blues,” “Ganesh Sound,” and “Saturnian”) to begin and end the set, but the middle half-hour is an improvised, three-part “Renunciation Suite” that offers as much unaccompanied solo space for each member as it does fiery four-part interaction, fracturing the group into its component parts and symbolically leaving each member onstage alone, though surrounded by former compatriots.

Shipp seems to believe the group might have overstayed its welcome. “I really enjoy playing David’s music,” he says. “I’ve been a huge part of his universe, a universe that we have together. The synergy has been really good for both of us. But when you look at the John Coltrane group, they did all that music in a four- to five-year period. I just don’t know if a small jazz group is meant to be together [for 17 years]— obviously, there are no rules in this universe, but on a certain level maybe it is time for everybody to move on.”

The undeniable merits of 21st-century albums like BalladWare (recorded in 1999, released in 2006), Freedom Suite, and the strings-augmented
Threads notwithstanding, it’s easy to argue the quartet peaked with their two Columbia releases, 1999’s
Go See the World and 2000’s Surrendered, and the attendant flurry of pretty much universally favorable press. “Despite the fact that people like Gary Giddins and Francis Davis were really into that band, the mainstream of jazz fans never got into it,” says Shipp. “The people that would go out and see the Wayne Shorter quartet, which I think our quartet is infinitely superior to, would not come out to hear the David S. Ware Quartet. There was a certain type of mainstream success that David was never able to get.”

Guillermo Brown, the group’s fourth and final drummer (and a composer in his own right, combining avant-jazz with laptop electronics), feels that moving beyond the quartet is ultimately a positive thing. “It’s like Broken Social Scene or Wu-Tang, man—the pieces break out,” he says. “Every member of the group has their own strategies for the music and the scene and for jazz in general. I don’t have any fears about the state of the music. We’re out here doing stuff, and there’s people outside the group who may have a chance now, because of the absence of the group, to say something and add to the discussion, the cacophony, the multitude of voices.”

Ware performs at Iridium July 13–14 in a new quartet featuring guitarist Joe Morris, bassist Keith Whitty, and Guillermo Brown on drums,



Its title is the only thing self-explanatory about tenor saxophonist David S. Ware’s Balladware, recorded seven years ago but released only this fall. On “Yesterdays,” the opener, the swoop of Ware’s vibrato might trick you into assuming you’re hearing Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis or some other classic honker easing into a love song as a change of pace—weeping in his beer chaser after downing the hard stuff in one rip. Along with the free meter implied by William Parker’s bass and Guillermo E. Brown’s cymbals, the giveaway that these tenor yawps are post-Coltrane is Matthew Shipp’s underlying piano chords, extrapolated from Kern but as dissonant as they are rhapsodic. The song itself becomes the performance’s shock element: Even though Ware has recorded it before (likewise “Autumn Leaves,” “Tenderly,” “Angel Eyes,” and Balladware‘s three originals—which probably explains why this impressive session was held back), we’re still not used to hearing a standard deployed as a framework for free improvisation. An overfamiliar melody just adds to the suspense.

Sure, Coltrane recorded standards well into the ’60s, but that was a transitional era for him and forjazz in general. Bob Thiele, his last producer (who spun a good yarn) used to claim that Ballads and John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman were intended to placate reviewers taken aback by epic performances like “Chasin’ the Trane.” But has any label, especially a major subsidiary, ever targeted an album primarily to reviewers? Another frequent explanation is that Coltrane was taking it easy following extensive dental work—equally dubious, because as saxophonists will tell you, the measured legato a ballad requires is about the last thing you want to tackle when your gums hurt. Coltrane, no doubt encouraged by Thiele, was simply meeting that day’s casual listeners halfway, beguiling them (and radio DJs) with modest variations on numbers popularized by Sinatra and Nat Cole. But who under the age of 50 has the lyrics to those songs going through his or her head now? Standards figure in the marketplace today largely as a way of letting aging rock stars play dress-up, and I often find myself having to explain to younger people what I even mean by the word.

The only remaining incentive for a jazz instrumentalist to do standards—the best reason all along—is what they have to offer harmonically. This certainly seems to be what draws Ware to them—although in his case, “harmony” takes the form of ecstatic, full-scale revision, not just running the chords. Including those here and his two monumental recordings of “The Way We Were,” he has a knack for picking songs whose air of rumination suits his melodramatic instincts. Just because he likes songs doesn’t mean he lets them off easy, any more than Sonny Rollins does or Coltrane did with “I Want to Talk About You.” Yet vestiges of the founding melodies and chords are discernible even during Ware’s extended a cappella spurts midway through both “Yesterdays” and “Tenderly”—premature cadenzas that raise the stakes for everything that follows.

Ware’s revisited originals—”Godspelized” (Horace Silver–cum–Pharoah Sanders sanctified screaming), “Dao” (major to minor, but in no other way modal), and “Sentient Compassion” (a semi-waltz segue into “Tenderly”)—prove as durable as any of the album’s chestnuts. They’re the kinds of tunes you could imagine other bands picking up on, if that sort of thing still happened. With Shipp’s dug-in piano bracing Ware’s climbs, this was arguably the best small group of the ’90s—especially after Brown (making his debut here) took over on drums and locked in with Parker to shift the emphasis from Whit Dickey and Susie Ibbara’s colorations to something resembling a groove.

Balladware‘s release now may be no more than stopgap product while Ware readies his new quartet with violinist Mat Maneri. There are no liner notes, and any publicist who expects me to hold on to press releases has never seen my desk. But I seem to recall reading this date came about because the band returned from a European tour too worn out to tackle anything new or fast. For all of that, I think this is one of Ware’s very best recordings.

It figures I would, because I like old songs. They’re disappearing from jazz, and I hate to see them go. Neo-boppers tend to know only those songs recorded by Miles or Coltrane, which appeal to them only as harmonic scaffolding. Avant-gardists like Ware, structuralists by nature, are ideally equipped to dissect songs and examine how the parts fit—and when they do, there’s pleasurable tension in hearing both song and player cast against type. But most such players are themselves composers disinclined to perform anyone else’s material, or total improvisers for whom the very idea of “material” is anathema.

Ironically, despite having otherwise severed ties, mainstream jazz still holds on (as if for dear life) not just to classic pop’s 32-bar song structure but to a theme-and-solos format dating back to the days when Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, and lesser lights from Broadway and Hollywood supplied half the jazz repertoire. Alto saxophonist David Binney’s Cities and Desire successfully shakes off these remaining bonds without discarding song altogether. Binney’s themes, lusty and engaging despite being metrically irregular and structurally oblong, never just bracket the solos—and never inhibit them, either. This is a concept album, named for a chapter in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, and the pieces segue into one another as if parts of a suite. But this impression of unity owes less to thematic similarity than to the longing and disquiet conveyed throughout by Binney and Mark Turner’s saxophone unisons, Craig Taborn’s piano stitching, and Dan Weiss’s ticking drums. The most exciting moments come during “Montreal,” when Binney and Turner bounce off each other in lieu of soloing sequentially; the only false touches are Weiss’s brief bits of tabla and stilted sprechstimme.

The lack of a common repertoire means it’s every man for himself in determining which alien material is close enough for jazz, but this has delivered unexpected blessings, ranging from Uri Caine’s Mozart to Don Byron’s Mickey Katz. Someone figured to dedicate an entire album to Stephen Foster sooner or later, and clarinetist Andy Biskin’s Early American makes you wonder why it took so long. American popular song begins with Foster’s mid-19th-century plantation melodies, however much we shy away from their demeaning lyrics, which Foster on at least one occasion specified were to be delivered “a la niggerando.” Leading a quartet with Chris Washburne on trombone or tuba, Pete McCann on guitar or banjo, and John Hollenbeck on drums (so into it and resourceful you’d swear he was playing spoons here and there), Biskin proves the innate dignity of songs like “Old Black Joe” and “Old Folks at Home” rests in their melodies. The only hint of stiff-legged parody is on the wonderful “There’s a Good Time Coming,” with its delirious eruptions of polka, klezmer, and Mahavishnu-like distortion and fuzz.

But this song was intended as a parody to begin with, Foster’s adaptation of a temperance anthem. Everything on Early American, including an abstracted “Beautiful Dreamer” and a handful of originals more or less in the Foster manner (the most robust a bumping blues called “Thin King Thinking”), attests to Biskin’s admiration for this vintage material, despite his cheeky approach to it. Trio Tragico, a simultaneous release featuring Biskin with trumpeter Dave Ballou, bassist Drew Gress, and no drummer, gives a clearer picture of him as a composer with a flair for quick little Monk-like tunes with well-constructed bridges, and as a clarinetist whose intonation is so good he can go sharp without sounding shrill. But Early American is the one that shows his reach.


Radical Comfort

Pick Hits

Live in the World
(Thirsty Ear)

It’s a fine cosmic joke, the way radical sounds turn comforting as they grow old. I’ve played these three CDs for atmosphere during a Vermont retreat, for solace after a disturbing afternoon with my demented 90-year-old dad—for the organic integrity of live free, for chaos rendered beautiful. Tune in anywhere except the one bass solo per disc that William Parker gets for holding the world together and you’ll hear saxophonist Ware or perhaps pianist Matthew Shipp or briefly one of the three drummers creating music that eschews the signposts, anchors, and trivial pleasures pop fans can’t and shouldn’t do without. Shipp is a lovely man and a wide-ranging artist, but in no other context is he so solid, and Ware’s ideas flow nonstop. After all these years it’s clear that he commands one of the great sounds in tenor sax history, very nearly on a par with Rollins, Coltrane, Webster—huge yet lyrical, and so loose. I prefer disc two for Hamid Drake, who drives harder than Susie Ibarra or Guillermo Brown. I recommend “Aquarian Sound” Parker and all, “Part Two” of Freedom Suite, and, definitely, “The Way We Were.” A MINUS

Though 2004’s Live at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge is as warm a blowing session as he’s laid down, this all too self-sufficient virtuoso gravitates to concept albums, in part because he’s no writer. This can be tricky—his Billie Holiday tribute is dreadful, and his Pavement covers reflect poorly on the alt-rock groove. But the organ-trio format so derided in jazzbo land suits his vulgar gusto perfectly—it’s made for showoffs and delights in the impolite sounds he can extract from any number of saxophones at will. My favorite pits his avant-honking tenor against guest Hamiet Bluiett’s avant-honking baritone on guest James Blood Ulmer’s “Highjack.” Ulmer also gets to sing “Little Red Rooster.” The vocal-less finale is “I Believe I Can Fly.” The organist is Gerard Gibbs. A MINUSJAMES CARTER ORGAN TRIO
Out of Nowhere
(Half Note)

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

The great thing about this album is how untranscendent it is, as if these lads know the guitar-band pleasures are cons. Sing-along tunes? Breakneck momentum? Next-big-thing ambition? Saturday-night swindles every one. Instead Alex Taylor and crew evoke club life as it is actually experienced. They sound like not knowing the doorman, like moving on a girl you think isn’t pretty enough, like missing the bus in a leather jacket that doesn’t keep out the cold. Many details are too U.K.-specific for Yank-yob gratification. But aesthetes will come to enjoy Taylor’s nuanced adenoids and his bandmates’ thought-through arrangements. A MINUS

Creation Rebel: The Original Classic Recordings From Studio One

Before he started wailing to wake up the dead, Winston Rodney tried to find a place within the harmony trio format imposed by Studio One’s Clement Dodd. This is the record of that struggle—not always as songful as Dodd (or we) might prefer, but whenever you tune in, somebody will do something that makes you ooh inside of a minute. “Door Peeper”? “This Population”? “Weeping and Wailing” (natch)? “Creation Rebel” itself? Those are songs. The “hip hip hooray” of “What a Happy Day”? Saddest ever recorded. A MINUS


Although slotted as soul or techno according to the interests of the slotter, this veteran U.K. dance music producer is neither. He moves in more select company: less genius than late Chic or recent Prince, but far more daring than Daniel Bedingfield or Craig David. Although Lidell’s voice lacks muscle and butter, he knows how to launch a falsetto, and the beats on “A Little Bit More” and “The City” should not be played within earshot of anyone wearing a pacemaker. He goes out on a wan five-minute ballad called “Game for Fools.” But before then he’s stated his creed with a lyric recommended to all white guys in the future-funk game, which also isn’t for fools: “I’m a question mark, walking talking question mark/But what is the question again?” A MINUS

Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert

I counted: pianist Stephen Scott and trombonist Clifton Anderson solo for 15-plus minutes apiece on this 72-minute album, which documents a 9/15/01 Boston concert down to the introductory remarks and standing ovations. Understandably, the material includes three meditative standards, and unsurprisingly, Rollins meditates up a storm at several speeds. The historical moment only intensifies his religious feelings about music; he’s humble and masterful, questioning and joyous, swinging and polyrhythmic. Scott fits in, running changes with a satisfying physicality. But the heightened circumstances make clear that Anderson’s main job in this band is to give the boss breathing room. And under the circumstances, there’s too much of it. B PLUS


Got no idea whether this is true grime because I never knew what grime was to begin with. The Brit accents on the pseudo-triumphalist, vaguely Jeezy-sounding four-cameo opener are grime enough for me—most gripping grime I know, in fact, and pretty damn fine Jeezy-sounding pseudo-triumphalism to boot. Offenses against purity abound—girl choruses and duets, guy who argues endearingly if unconvincingly that “shanking” isn’t commercial, and a Nas fan with a pink penis who tells a mildly grisly story backwards whilst strumming an acoustic guitar very hard. Letdown: Sway, touted as this year’s, you remember, Dizzee Rascal. Disappointment: paucity of Jeezy-sounding pseudo-triumphalism. A MINUS


Less Wu than advertised—RZA duet, GZA duet, GZA cameo, U-God cameo, with production dominated by RZA subaltern Bronze Nazareth. Not especially coherent, either, even within individual songs. But loaded with beats, and with great moments—RZA’s traffic cop, Byata’s Russian homegirl, Solomon Childs’s African economics. With backpack types now Wu-Tang’s natural constituency, the 27 rappers on this comp make their subculture sound dope even if they’re not. Plus an infomercial in which Jim Jarmusch bites Yehudi Menuhin. B PLUS

Dud of the Month

The Back Room

Denying prior knowledge of Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, and Interpol, Staffordshire University’s answer to the Arctic Monkeys cite as influences early R.E.M., Elbow, and the French Doors—not Jimbo in Paris, a Brooklyn band that shares members with, you know, Black Lipstick. I believe them, too. Though this strain of heartsick gravity was unknown on earth before Ian Curtis and the goth/new romantic inundation he heralded, it has since been imprinted on every Caucasian adolescent in the English-speaking world. And as leader Tom Smith demonstrates, it needn’t be morbid or suicidal. His message is often sanely chin-up—as in “Open your arms and welcome people to your town” and even the relatively dark (if sonically comic) “You don’t need this disease you don’t,” 36 repetitions of which constitute virtually the entire lyric of “Bullets.” Someone should tell him about the Human League. C PLUS

Honorable Mention

(Justin Time)

He needs his ka drummer and his diaspora brass, but the heroes are guest co-tenor Pharoah Sanders and trap drummer Hamid Drake, Yanks both despite their sobriquets (“Gwotet,” “Ovwa”).

(Old Hat)

Forty-eight lovingly documented songs, most generic even when also distinguished, many uncomfortably laissez-faire about minstrel stereotyping (Walter Cole, “Mama Keep Your Yes Ma’am Clean”; Jim Jackson, “I Heard the Voice of a Porkchop”; Beans Hambone & El Morrow, “Beans”).

(Light in the Attic)

The cleansing power of a big fat gloomy wartime drone (“The First Vietnamese War,” “Manipulation”).

First Impressions of Earth

You know how it is—the gym does more for your wind than for your jump shot (“You Only Live Once,” “Ask Me Anything”).

(Yep Roc)

Mad Red Bulgarian Wannabes of the Appalachians (“Somethin’ in the Water,” “No Such Thing”).

The Weight Is a Gift

Emo, if that term retains any shred of cred, for adults—who actually know a tune when they hear one (“Blankest Year,” “Imaginary Friends”).


RZA-inspired beats, CSI-inspired rhymes (“Destruction of a Guard,” “Exploitation of Mistakes”).

(Akron Cracker)

Mr. Ralph Carney and his small ensemble play the works of Zappa, Prado, Ra, Monk, Cream, Dekker, and others (“Jackie-ing,” “Intensified Festival ’68”).

Children of Possibility
(Ninja Tune)

Digable internationalists descant hip-hop spirituality (“Fear the Labour,” “Bluebird”).

(Brass Tack)

They tried the country and they tried the city, but speed was the only thing that made them feel better—as bluegrass and punk, respectively (“Rumspringa,” “Professional”).

Gold Sounds
(Brown Brothers)

Jazz guys seeking avant move cover alt-rock demigods (“Here,” “Summer Babe”).

Ain’t Nobody Worryin’
(So So Def)

The essential nourishment and fatal tedium of soul, sincerity, the whole Sunday-morning snore (“Ain’t Nobody Worryin’,” “Sista Big Bones”).

Murray’s Revenge
(Record Collection)

“We’re not gonna be yelling and screaming about ignorant shit” (“Dark Skinned White Girls,” “Yesterday, Today”).

Choice Cuts

“I Drink,” “Mercy Now”
(Mercy Now, Lost Highway)

(Magnificent City, Decon)

(The Rough Guide to the Music of the Alps, World Music Network)


In Space


Black Yankee Rock



Akron Cracker,;


Barsuk, PO Box 22546, Seattle WA 98132,;

Brass Tacks, 45 West 21st Street, NYC 10010,;

Brown Brothers, 39 East 85th Street, NYC 10028,;

Domino, PO Box 1207, NYC 10276,;

Half Note, 131 West 3rd Street, NYC 10012,;

Heartbeat, 29 Camp Street, Cambridge MA 02140,;

Justin Time, 5455 Rue Par Suite 101, Montreal PQ Canada H4P 1P7,;

Light in the Attic, PO Box 31970, Seattle WA 98103,;

Milestone, 10th & Parker, Berkeley CA 94710,;

New West, LLC PO Box 33156, Austin TX 78674-0156,;

Old Hat, PO Box 10309, Raleigh NC 27605,;

Record Collection, 1223 Wilshire Boulevard 811, Los Angeles CA 90403,;

ROIR, PO Box 501, Prince Street Station, NYC 10012;

SpinArt, PO Box 1798, NYC 10156-1798,;

Thirsty Ear, 22 Knight Street, Norwalk CT 06851, NYC 10016,;

Warp, 503 Eighth Avenue 4th Floor, Brooklyn NY 11215,;

World Music Network, 6 Abbeville Mews, 88 Clapham Park Road, London SW4 7BX, England,
Yep Roc, PO Box 4821, Chapel Hill NC 27515,;


Largehearted Music From Massive Tenor Provides Transcendent Perspectives

The elephant on the cover of tenor saxophonist David S. Ware’s three-disc Live in the World is the Hindu god Ganesh, often referred to as the “Remover of Obstacles.” It’s as if the legacies of tenor titans such as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane had swelled into baggage, obstacles as much as inspirations. Ware—who studied briefly with Rollins as a teen—relieves burdens without misplacing valuables: Rollins’s streaming ideas and bristling low end, Coltrane’s questing sound and pealing highs, not to mention Ben Webster’s free-swinging swagger and Albert Ayler’s gritty tone, are all in his playing. But Ware’s massive sound is anything but derivative. And despite drum-chair changes, the quartet he’s led since the late 1980s is the most resilient, least heralded, best-sounding supergroup in modern jazz.

The proof is in these three discs, drawn from a 1998 Swiss concert and two 2003 Italian dates. Bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp, who’ve ranged widely to great acclaim as leaders, do their most complete work with Ware. Never reliant on standard basslines or chord movement, the two weave webs shaped to Ware’s succinct melodies and ever shifting flow. That plays to Ware’s strength. Like Cecil Taylor, he isn’t a truly free player: He teases possibilities from distinct statements, each stamped by a different drummer. Hamid Drake’s snare rolls and cymbal crashes are finely attuned to the individual improvisations. Guillermo E. Brown’s aggressive attack lends spark. Susie Ibarra’s painterly polyrhythms, devoid of cliché, reach for the sublime.

Ware’s studio take on Marvin Hamlisch’s “The Way We Were” (1998’s Go See the World) began as a quartet deconstruction. Here, Ware enters alone, wrestles a phrase or two, buzzes through overtones, and veers into “My One and Only Love” and “Misty,” among other tunes, until the quartet joins him for a recognizable read. At the bridge, the song shatters into beautiful shards, for later reassembly. Disc three is devoted to Rollins’s 1958 Freedom Suite, its themes dissolved into Ware’s improvisations even more fluidly than on his 2003 recording.

Mostly, Ware refines his own compositions. “Sentient Compassion” (from 1993’s Third Ear Recitation) expands into a tender ballad, with Parker’s bass thumping like a Moroccan sintir and Shipp’s broken chords evoking a thumb piano as Ware’s high end softly flutters. And Ware strips “Aquarian Sound” (1992’s Flight of I) to its core, staked to Parker’s sturdy five-note theme and Shipp’s chiming clusters. A mountain of music—worth the climb for its glimpses of Ware’s unencumbered bliss.