David S. Ware / Cooper-Moore / William Parker / Muhammad Ali: Planetary Unknown (2011)
Saxophone giant David S. Ware's comeback following a kidney transplant continues apace, this time within a new super group comprising some of the brighter magnitude bodies in the free jazz firmament. Ware's post-op output includes potent showings in Saturnian (Aum Fidelity, 2009) and Onecept (Aum Fidelity, 2010) but Planetary Unknown represents the strongest achievement yet. In large part, that is down to the egalitarian outlook of the stellar cast.
Bassist William Parker remains a constant in Ware's universe, his huge sound and propulsive swing ever present since the late 1980s. Reunited with Ware for the first time in 30 years, pianist Cooper-Moore (then known as Gene Ashton) who appears on Ware's Birth Of A Being (Hat Hut, 1979) is someone whose profile ought to be higher, commensurate with his startling talent. Since then he has graced Parker's In Order To Survive and a brace of recordings with Triptych Myth, and made an electrifying contribution to saxophonist Darius Jones' acclaimed Man'ish Boy (Aum Fidelity, 2009). Cooper-Moore's presence would be cause for celebration enough, but there is one further surprise in the appearance of Muhammad Ali behind the trap set. Brother of the late Rashied Ali, Muhammad is best known for fueling saxophonist Frank Wright's wild flights in the Center of the World Quartet, but has resurfaced again, triumphantly filling his brother's shoes in By Any Means, alongside Parker and saxophonist Charles Gayle at the 2010 Vision Festival.
Of course, this backstory would merit nothing more than a discographical footnote if the final product failed to deliver, but deliver it does. With over 150 years of joint experience to call upon, the four men not only shine individually but are committed to making the group work. All seven cuts have a collective genesis, though the liners intimate that Ware made some interventions, cueing the marvelous hand-in-glove duet with Ali on "Duality Is One." In spite of the arsenal of fire power assembled, the 72- minute program is as impressive for its restraint as its combativeness.
A tender lyricism pervades "Divination," which knits interlinked solos by Cooper- Moore and Ware with slow burning rhythmic support, while Parker unsheathes his bow for dizzying shifts between convergence and dissonance in tandem with Ware's roller coaster sopranino on "Divination Unfathomable," which forms one of the disc's high points. Others come at the start and finish. The opening "Passage Wudang" is among the most energetic numbers and, at over 20-minutes, by far the longest. Ware's serpentine excursions, notable for his commanding tone, extreme cries and in-the-gut lows, illuminate the four way improvisation, abetted by Cooper-Moore's sweeping glissandi, stabbed chords and explosive lurching runs. Even more assertive is the final "Ancestry Supramental," buoyed by Parker's muscular pizzicato throb and Ali's pulsing cymbals. It is almost as if the keys were shooting off the piano, as Cooper-Moore coaxes and pummels, before Ware and Ali "trade fours," firmly anchoring this excellent set in the extended jazz tradition.
Track Listing: Passage Wudang; Shift; Duality Is One; Divination; Crystal Palace; Divination Unfathomable; Ancestry Supramental.
Personnel: David S. Ware: tenor and sopranino saxophones, stritch; Cooper-Moore: piano; William Parker: bass; Muhammad Ali: drums.