David S. Ware: Shakti (2009)
From the outset, tenor saxophonist David S Ware's magisterial tone serves notice that his phenomenal powers are undimmed on the debut of his new quartet. After some evolution the lineup has settled with Ware unable to better William Parker's tenure of the bass chair, master percussionist Warren Smith enlisted on drums and Boston- based Joe Morris on guitar. Ware's longstanding band with pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist Parker and a changing roster of drummers was one of the great bands of the 1990s, so comparisons with the latest incarnation will be inevitable.
Ware and confreres continue to mine a rich seam of passionately hewn avant jazz based on elemental saxophone motifs over the 68-minute studio program. Though Ware's tenor doesn't provoke the same shock as back in the day, the tensile strength of his supercharged forays, building from gruff foundations right up to the soaring altissimo pinnacles, is still sufficient to place him in the upper echelons of the saxophone pantheon. Ware stalks these six cuts with an effortless feline grace.
Parker reasserts his pre-eminence in free jazz propulsion, reveling in a level of abrasive abandon which he rarely reveals as a leader. His arco duetting, with first Ware and then Morris on the lengthy "Nataraj" is one of the highlights of this set. In Smith he has a partner he can rely on when embarking on a flight of fancy. Smith's spacious attitude to rhythm is a key factor in opening up the group sound and allowing it to breathe. That, allied with his judicious placement of texture and accents, makes for one of the most striking contrasts with the density of the classic quartet, even more significant than the mould-breaking introduction of Morris' bright fleet fingered flowing single note runs.
Ware's familiar gambit of soloing with just bass and drums accompaniment remains, as evidenced on "Antidromic." Reprised from the saxophonist's quartet date on the very first Aum Fidelity release, Wisdom of Uncertainty (1997), its inclusion emphasizes the connection with his previous work. Showcasing the bands strengths, "Crossing Samsara" is a classic opener right from the unison theme over a loping medium tempo, to the forceful soloing over freeish bass and drums, and the impassioned tenor cadenza darting between registers. Ware rings the changes through the program: the episodic title track contrasts ecstatic saxophone soliloquies with thematic unisons, while on "Namah" an atmospheric beginning pitches kalimba against wavering arco bass and tinkling percussion, before Ware's signature clarion call builds through the registers with burning intensity.
In one of the few false notes on this splendid release, the track fades out just as Ware goes into the stratosphere, a move repeated on the opener. That aside, this is a great return to form for Ware. Whether the promise will be sustained will depend on Ware's success in finding the kidney donor he urgently needs to allow him to thrive. We can only hope.
Track Listing: Crossing Samsara; Nataraj; Reflection; Namah; Antidromic; Shakti.
Personnel: David S. Ware: tenor saxophone and kalimba (4); Joe Morris: guitar and percussion (4); William Parker: bass; Warren Smith: drums and percussion.