David S. Ware Quartet: Freedom Suite (2002)
Tenor saxophonist David S. Ware is something of a prophet. That may sound like a melodramatic exaggeration, but it's true. Ware belongs in a long tradition of African American musical testimony which finds its roots in the early days of slavery and which has manifested itself in subsequent forms of revelation including the blues and gospel. During the development of jazz, its identity evolved through the music of John Coltrane (A Love Supreme) and Albert Ayler (Spiritual Unity). Ware draws heavily from these two masters, though he has carved out a distinctive sound of his own. In some sense, Ware too has seen the lightand his humble role in this world is to share that vision with others.
When I recently spoke with Ware, he talked about his musical inspiration in no uncertain terms: "Sonny Rollins is the living master of the tenor saxophone... I consider him my father." And so he pays dramatic tribute here through his own rendition of the master's 1958 extended composition "Freedom Suite." This version, like the original, builds from short, clear themes within a simple overall frameworkwhich makes the improvised aspect of the piece particularly important. Ware applies his own interpretation, which is decidedly more modern and abstract than the original. The tenor player seems to be yearning, reaching skyward for the cadence of inspiration and the tone of revelation. And as always, his supporting cast plays an integrated role. Matthew Shipp steps up to fill new space in a composition that originally had no piano, lending a stark, gothic voice. Bassist William Parker maintains an organic connection with the spirits, which manifests itself through the irrevocable union of melody, harmony, and rhythm. And Guillermo E. Brown (by far the youngest of the group) lends a fresh, sharp, versatile sound on the drums that supplies as much color as pulse.
The Freedom Suite is emotionally involving the whole way through. And after these forty minutes have passed, there's a palpable sense of calm and resolution. Perhaps that's a sign that Ware has managed to pass along some of his spiritual vision. (These things are hard to put into words.)
This record is the deepest, most coherent, and most accessible DSWQ disc I've heard, and the best record of the year by far. Consider that a recommendation.
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Track Listing: The Freedom Suite.
Personnel: David S. Ware: tenor saxophone; Matthew Shipp: piano; William Parker: bass; Guillermo E. Brown: drums.