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David S. Ware and the Wisdom of Uncertainty

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Ware's music could be understood as a map towards the unknown landscape of human emotions, trying to recognize and redeem them. In terms of emotion, some sounds are flat, but Ware's music is multidimensional.
Every record label needs a beginning, a first release, but it is seldom that the initial release is a masterpiece. However, this is the case with Wisdom of Uncertainty, saxophonist David S. Ware's album from 1997, which was the inaugural release of Steven Joerg's AUM Fidelity imprint.

The name of the label is inspired by Charles Mingus' iconic album Mingus Ah Um. Referencing one of the all-time classics in jazz history, Joerg set the bar high for the label, but his belief in the artists is also strong. As he says in an interview on All About Jazz with Marc Medwin from 2006: "there has been a decided missionary zeal from the beginning. I wanted to bring this profound and relatively unheard music to a wider listening public to enjoy. As far as music goes, these are some of the finest players, composers and bandleaders who exist in the world today—simple as that!"

Some of the most important names on the label include Ware and fellow saxophonist Darius Jones, bassist William Parker, guitarist Joe Morris, drummer Mike Pride and pianists Cooper Moore, Matthew Shipp and Eri Yamamoto. Especially Jones, Ware and Parker stand out with many albums as leaders.

David S. Ware and William Parker.

Ware, Parker and Shipp form a super group with percussion wizard Susie Ibarra on Wisdom of Uncertainty. The album consists of six selections, with three epic compositions forming the core of the album: the opener, "Accclimation," "Utopic" and the conclusion, "Continuum."

"Acclimation" starts full throttle with the whole group in motion as Ware bursts out with soulful playing, stating the theme with his throaty voice. As he slurs the saxophone lines, the piece explodes into a tightly swinging piece with Shipp dancing away on the tangents, keeping things in motion and interrupting them at the same time with crashing piano thunder. All the while, he keeps a close eye on the theme. The amazing thing is how two ages of jazz interact with each other: avant-garde explosions meet sophisticated swing feeling and time signatures are constantly challenged. Around the 11-minute mark, Parker is buzzing away on the bass, making it sing with his bow while Ibarra's percussive sounds are rustling in the background. Suddenly, Ware breaks through with a gigantic howl from the saxophone, stating the theme once again and marking the ending as a continuous circle.

Susie Ibarra.

The beginning of "Utopia" is simply heartbreakingly beautiful, a fragile, almost classical melody with Shipp's gentle piano figures in dialogue with Parker's cello-like playing on the bass and the wind chimes of Ibarra. There is an almost baroque playfulness about Shipp's approach before he unfolds the full scope of his instrument, moving from major to minor with dense, dark, rolling chords. This more than three-minute prelude sets the stage for Ware's deep playing, making the earth move with his saxophone, reaching into the human landscape with an utopian love cry that sings the melody. He gradually builds his playing into a frenzy, reaching for a register that is as high as heaven and the climax is replaced by the more hushed sounds of the introduction with Parker's bowed bass and the piano-playing disappearing into the horizon.

Matthew Shipp.

"Continuum" is a fitting title for the ending of the album, which is not an ending in the usual sense. It is as if the music moves in circles and ebbs and flow instead of following a straight narrative line. The melodic theme in the beginning finds Ware's saxophone jumping from line to line while Shipp follows suit, but then there is a descent into the maelstrom with splashing waves of sound. Suddenly Shipp emerges clearly with poignant piano figures and Parker's abstract groove in the background while Ibarra adds restless rhythms on the cymbals. All the time, the theme is floating underneath it all and ends the composition.

Free jazz is sometimes accused of not having any form, but Ware's music shows a very advanced sense of form grounded in the repetition of melodic motifs and themes. In Matt Galloway's liner notes, there's a quote where Ware talks about the significance of form:

"I've always been very aware of form. People sometimes say that this type of music is just random notes, that anything goes. That's just not the case at all. There's so much information being passed through this music -musical, philosophical and metaphysical -and the motifs and melodies have their own direction about them."


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