David S. Ware's Shakti, his first release since the dissolution of his longstanding quartet, is an outstanding addition to the saxophonist's already extraordinary discography. Ware is reunited with bassist William Parker (a member of the earlier quartet, who goes back to Ware's very first recordings as a leader), with veteran Warren Smith seated in the drum chair formerly occupied by Susie lbarra, Marc Edwards, Whit Dickey and Guillermo E. Brown and, perhaps most notably, idiosyncratic guitarist Joe Morris taking on the chordal role previously handled by pianist Matthew Shipp. It is the clean luminous tone that Morris evinces from his instrument (a somewhat rare quality from an avant-garde guitarist) that distinguishes this group from the preceding one - giving it an airier sound.
Ware himself is still a commanding presence, playing with the spiritually driven cosmic energy that the date's title implies. The opening "Crossing Samsara" begins with an appealing free-bopping motif from which Ware launches into an unrestrained improvisation hearkening to his trinity of well-known influences - Rollins, Ayler and Coltrane - at times taking on the sound of a gospel-toned preaching saxophonist. Morris proves to be an excellent foil, twisting crystalline lines around the rolling rhythms of Parker and Smith, the latter a painterly texturalist who may be the most sympathetic drummer the unit has had yet. The 18-plus minute "Nataraj" opens with a repeated bass ostinato that leads into an Ornette-ish dirge, with Morris playing a "Lonely Woman"-like line behind Ware's dark brooding tenor. "Reflection" is a melancholic conversation, first between the leader and Parker and then Morris and the bassist, steadily underpinned by Smith's tasteful commentary.
"Namah" begins with Ware on kalimba and Morris playing percussion, Parker bowing bass and Smith playing the colorist on drums and cymbals prior to the leader's evocation of a prayerful melody and an extended improvisation in which he wrestles some very voice-like testimonials from his horns. The repetitive Monk-ish melody "Antidromic," first heard on 1997's Wisdom Of Uncertainty date, is given a well- deserved reprise, the whole band in inspired abandon. The concluding title suite begins with "Durga," an Ayler-ish call-and-response fanfare with guitar as the second voice, and moves, with a superb drum interlude, into the alluring deliberate line "Devi," serving as a bridge to the final movement "Kali," a freewheeling improvisation of transcendental dimensions. Taken as a whole, Shakti is one Ware's finest efforts yet, one that introduces an important new unit with what one hopes is a bright future.
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