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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."

One way of describing what is going in Ware's music is that he works with an organic concept of form. In the music, there are fragments of other genres, including swing, minimalism and classical, but really it would be wrong to describe a part of the music as a fragment of swing. What the musicians do is that they let the music decide the form, instead of letting the form decide the music. Genres are useful, but they can also be limiting and Ware's music swings if it NEEDS to swing and it stops swinging when it no longer needs to do it. It does not follow the straitjacket of conventional genres. The music is not without form, but is free to develop its own form regardless of genres.

William Parker.

This way of playing requires a special musical compass, a belief in the moment and first and foremost openness. This openness also entails vulnerability and instability, but this is exactly where fixed musical borders start to blur and wisdom can occur. The saxophonist Pharoah Sanders named one of his albums Wisdom through Music (1972) and it is the same wisdom that Ware is trying to find for himself and his listeners. The consequence of this music is also that it requires a new way of listening. Ware touches upon this special way of listening in the notes to one of his other albums on AUM Fidelity: Onecept (2010):

"The intent of the music is for people to listen to what it is I do -whether it's in solo context or group context—and to make them think. To start thinking about things in a non-physical way. My intent is to initiate them. For some kind of initiation to take place in their thought process, in their higher emotions, to influence them to take on higher values, to get into actually living higher values and to take them Self-wards. When I say Self I don't mean individual self, I mean universal, cosmic, all-inclusive self. A Self that's in everyone."

In other words, music is high emotional intelligence, or at least it has the potential to be it, in the right musician's hands, and the right listener's ear. 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.

Each human is essentially a mystery, just like life is a mystery. Life, beautiful as it is, is also uncertain, but in the middle of the darkness there is a light. In the middle of chaos, a form arises that was always there. That is the wisdom of uncertainty. Even though David S. Ware is no longer among us. The affirmative message of his music lives on.

Selected records by David S. Ware on AUM Fidelity:

David S. Ware Quartet: Wisdom of Uncertainty (1997)
David S. Ware/Joe Morris/William Parker/Warren Smith: Shakti (2009)
David S. Ware/Cooper-Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali: Planetary Unknown (2011)
David S. Ware/William Parker/Warren Smith: Onecept (2010)

Photo Credit: Ziga Koritnik: David S. Ware and William Parker (p. 1); Dave Kaufman: Susie Ibarra (p. 1); John Sharpe: Matthew Shipp (p. 1); Aldon Nielsen: William Parker (p. 2).
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