David S. Ware String Ensemble: Threads

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David S. Ware's juggernaut quartet picks up two (more) string players for Threads, expanding its sound in the direction of modern composition. The tenor saxophonist has always had an uncanny ability to utilize his instrument's full potential for emotional expression, which comes in the form of a thick, spiritualized gesture for the most part. Ecstatic enough in the company of his regular counterparts, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and Guillermo E. Brown, whom he appears to treat as equals with a shared mission. Add Mat Maneri (viola) and Daniel Bernard Roumain (violin) to round out this particular group.

The new unit is a bit less democratic given Ware's increased role in the realm of composition, which an expanded ensemble like this can realize most effectively. But quite honestly, none of these guys get involved with any project where they can't say what they need to say. Brown in particular goes the full range from irregular tinkling and clattering strokes ("Carousel of Lightness") to an even swinging funk ("Sufic Passages"). His approach seems to be to work out a pretty specific angle for each tune and dig it for all it's worth.

Now that Shipp has plugged into a Korg synthesizer, the unit has changed dramatically, sometimes for the better but often for the worse. In the context of Mat Maneri (viola) and Daniel Bernard Roumain (violin) he seeks out amorphous orchestral sounds, soft floating units that have little body and no depth. (Maybe the tone was not his choice. Who knows.) Mat Maneri displays his usual penchant for the unexpected within these relatively fixed confines, providing a welcome sense of warmth.

The six pieces on the record include a couple murky dirges, an electroacoustic jam, a thickly but openly harmonized minimalist prayer (the title piece), a more improvisational meditation, and two wildly naked gestures by Ware (the two "Weave" pieces) in a pared down context with drums.

All that said, the thing that pulls me like a magnet to this particular record is Ware's own playing, not his composition. (This context may be a little bulky, but it doesn't suffer from any lack of imagination or consistency.) When Ware speaks freely through his horn, he communicates more openly from the heart than any saxophonist alive. Those two brief tracks are fucking great. I can't really decide about the rest.

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