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David S. Ware / Cooper-Moore / William Parker / Muhammad Ali: Planetary Unknown

Troy Collins By

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Renowned saxophonist David S. Ware continues to explore new avenues following his successful kidney transplant two years ago. Since then, Ware released Saturnian (AUM Fidelity, 2009), a stoic solo set, and Onecept (AUM Fidelity, 2010), a bristling trio excursion with bassist William Parker and drummer Warren Smith. Planetary Unknown surpasses even these notable recordings, featuring an all-star quartet whose members' combined experience encapsulates the last four decades of free jazz history.

Parker has been Ware's primary colleague for almost two decades; his robust tone and intuitive phrasing complements the saxophonist's tortuous excursions with near clairvoyance. Though his recent efforts have eschewed its use, the piano—courtesy of Matthew Shipp—was a mainstay of Ware's long-running Quartet (1989-2006). Plying an earthier approach than Shipp's classically inspired technique, Cooper-Moore's bluesy abstractions root the ensemble in what the AACM originally coined Great Black Music. Cooper-Moore hasn't performed with Ware since the '70s however, and drummer Muhammad Ali, a former sideman to such '60s luminaries as Albert Ayler, Alan Shorter and Frank Wright, appears here for the first time on record in three decades, making this gathering as much a reunion as a summit meeting.

Ware's venerable associates bring focused devotion to this collaborative session, infusing the proceedings with a spiritual fervor worthy of their New Thing forbearers. "Passage Wudang," the epic opener, establishes the line-up's ecstatic potential with a roiling tempest of abstruse angles and fractured rhythms. Cooper-Moore's stabbing arpeggios, coiled tone clusters and splayed filigrees seep into the knotty firmament sown by Parker's abstruse accents and Ali's cascading percussion, modulating together through expansive spatial dynamics with surprising delicacy. Bolstered by sympathetic peers, Ware's rapturous cadences soar heavenward with a virile Olympian tone; his circular breathing marathon at the tune's climax peaks with a herculean blast of surging multiphonics that erases any doubts of his post-op prowess.

Alternating between the probing lyricism of the haunting rubato ballad "Divination" and the roiling fervor of "Ancestry Supramental," the group plies a compelling series of variations on classic fire music tenets throughout the remainder of the date. Extending the band's color palette, Ware applies a singular approach to his horns; brawny tenor dominates the aggressive first half of the album, sinuous sopranino the introspective second, exotic stritch the exuberant finale. Following suit, Parker's sinewy arco harmonics impel the cubist meditation "Divination Unfathomable" into celestial regions, while "Duality Is One" spotlights Ware and Ali in a spirited dialogue that recalls John Coltrane's legendary duet with Ali's brother Rashied Ali on Interstellar Space (Impulse!, 1967).

Unified by shared histories, the quartet's inspired interplay yields passages of spontaneous invention that are staggering in their complexity and intuitive concordance, upholding Ware's transcendental spirituality with palpable conviction. Expounding on the diverse lineage of post-war free jazz traditions with unbridled passion and attentive congeniality, Planetary Unknown is a tour de force of free improvisation from four masters of the form.

Track Listing: Passage Wudang; Shift; Duality is One; Divination; Crystal Palace; Divination Unfathomable; Ancestry Supramental.

Personnel: David S. Ware: tenor sax (1-3), sopranino sax (4-6), stritch (7); Cooper-Moore: piano; William Parker: bass; Muhammad Ali: drums.

Title: Planetary Unknown | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: AUM Fidelity

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