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Freedom Suite Revisited

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For his part, Ware utilizes a greater variety of sounds on his version of the Suite than Rollins did. Not long after the release of the original Freedom Suite Rollins retired for a time from performing and recording. When he emerged in 1962, he was playing in a much more unambiguously free style and working with a group of avant-garde musicians. It is clear that Rollins was working on incorporating a wider variety of sounds and improvisational elements usually associated with free jazz, and he had spent the time since the release of Freedom Suite reinventing his approach. Ware, whom Rollins took under his wing in his early years, makes Rollins' free jazz leanings much more overt in his version of the piece, and I don't doubt that the piece might have leaned much more toward free jazz had Rollins recorded it a couple of years later. That said, the piece never becomes a free jazz blowing session, at least in part because Shipp's playing allows the others more freedom while simultaneously maintaining a clear base of operations.

The question that cannot help be asked by listeners to this piece would be "Why has Ware chosen to record Freedom Suite, and why now ?" First, the piece is a very influential piece of tenor saxophone music, and for anyone playing the instrument it is a real yardstick, much like Coltrane's A Love Supreme. To record Rollins's composition and put one's own stamp upon it is clearly a rite of passage for an adventurous tenor player. Branford Marsalis chose to record a version of the piece on his 2002 album Footsteps of Our Fathers. Marsalis's version is much closer to Rollins's version, but it is well performed and offers a combination of swing and sly wit. Still, one cannot help but feel that Ware comes closer to expressing the original feelings and content that Rollins intended, and his realization definitely adds something to the work.

Ware's other reasons for recording Freedom Suite remain more personal. No doubt he also wished to express his musical debt to Rollins. "This is a perfect opportunity to show the link between me and Sonny," explained Ware in an interview earlier this year, "an opportune time to show how one generation is built upon another and how the relationships work in the whole stream of music that's called jazz." One is also tempted to remember the story of Rollins' censorship upon the release of the original album and see a parallel with the possible erosion of civil liberties in the wake of 9/11. That, of course, takes a piece that is very clearly about the liberation of African Americans and expands its context beyond what the composer intended. If should also be pointed out that Ware has made no statement that would support such an interpretation. It really doesn't matter, though; Freedom Suite stands as a vibrant and original piece of music.

Review: Freedom Suite by David S. Ware
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