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Colossal Saxophones: Unity and Balladware

Jeff Stockton By

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Frank Wright

David S. Ware Quartet
Thirsty Ear

Frank Wright only knew how to play the tenor saxophone one way: ecstatically. A Cleveland contemporary of Albert Ayler and elder statesman among a group of burgeoning free jazzers in the late '60s, Wright has always been more of an underground influence than a well known practitioner. Once the Reverend relocated to France, as his recordings became more scarce and coveted, his music became more gospel-charged. Unity, a previously unreleased hour-long concert recorded in Germany in 1974, presents Wright with his legendary quartet comprised of fellow expats Bobby Few on piano, Alan Silva on bass and Muhammad Ali on drums, whipping each other (and the crowd) into a frenzy of exuberant blowing and possessed pounding (especially by Few). The band works tirelessly and over the course of the hour offers spirited music that's realer than church. By the time "Part 2 gets going, everyone without a reed in his mouth is calling out, sanctified and swept up by the collective commitment to holy elevation.

A similarly configured quartet fronted by another tenor giant, David S. Ware's BalladWare is also from the archives. Coming off tour in 1999 and gathered to record new material, the David S. Ware Quartet was simply too emotionally and physically drained to make it come together. So the band turned to "ballads that had been previously recorded by Ware and stalwarts William Parker (bass) and Matthew Shipp (piano), but this time with drummer Guillermo Brown. In 2006 this group gave its final US performance at the Vision Festival, but seven years ago the leader may have sensed he had taken his sound as far as it could go. Ware's tone on tenor here continues its direction away from marathon overblowing toward a warmer muscularity and more enveloping breadth, as if he were writing an elegy for this band's music. Parker and Brown give the tunes spine and Shipp is inspired in the way he handles familiar melodies and creative tangents with delicacy, grace and the melodic sense of a classicist on this mature, vine-ripened work.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Unity Part One; Unity Part Two

Personnel: Frank Wright: tenor and soprano saxophone; Bobby Few: piano; Alan Silva: bass; Muhammad Ali: drums


Tracks: Yesterdays; Dao; Autumn Leaves; Godspelized; Sentient Compassion; Tenderly; Angel Eyes

Personnel: David S. Ware: tenor saxophone; Matthew Shipp: piano; William Parker: bass; Guillermo E. Brown: drums


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