David S. Ware New Quartet
Théâtre Garonne, 2008
David S. Ware lost his battle with kidney failure in 2012 – it was a blood infection that got him following on from his 2009 transplant. He played in pain and without many people knowing for the last two decades of his career. Including here in 2008, pre transplant, with what was his new quartet – a short-lived group that featured drummer Warren Smith in place of the previous Susie Ibarra and guitarist Joe Morris taking over from the piano chair that Matthew Shipp had held for well over a decade. Longtime collaborator William Parker was still the bass anchor for this group.
This live set has just been released now – what a triumph, what a gig! All four players are on fire with plenty of time and space to showcase their unique dazzle.
Ware plays like a man in rude health – alive and alert and brimming with possibilities. Particularly on the opening salvo of Crossing Samara – in two parts – across nearly half an hour. It’s all at once free jazz and afrobeat, crisp funk edges and dark jazz corners – soul drips from the horn as he Albert Ayler wails and Morris provides a lovely counterpoint – he’s like if Pat Metheny decided to play only Sonny Sharrock’s guitar lines.
Morris has a long, prolific career as both sideman and leader and he was such a great foil for Ware – stepping up as a second soloist and taking the tunes in surprising directions, always with melodic twists but with his wonderful, playful sense of rhythm too.
And drummer Warren Smith, who had worked with everyone from Mingus and Herbie Mann, to Gene Ammons and Anthony Braxton (including an important percussion role in Max Roach’s M/Boom ensemble) knew so well the push-pull of driving tunes forward but stopping off in the rest-area for some sightseeing – his creativity and bounce is busy here but never distracting.
The source material, largely, is the band’s studio album Shakti – but to hear these versions is akin to when Coltrane would take his A Love Supreme record out for shows (Live In Antibes, 1965) putting a bit more elbow into it all.
Of course, as with Coltrane, and even Ayler, Ware wasn’t just about pushing forward and hard, he could elegantly and eloquently shape a ballad too – and Reflection is an example of him showing his Sonny Rollins tone (and expression). Its set up by Morris, in a similar work mode to Marc Ribot.
Things go ‘out’ big time with Namah – Ware is like a whistling kettle against the clang and bash of various bells and rolls from Smith, and by the time of Samsara’s returning theme to close – complete with valedictory band intros – it’s such an epic journey. Masterful. And of course bittersweet.
What a band this was. And what a creative mind and player David S. Ware was – he gave us plenty of course. And there’s obviously still more (like this) in the can. But what a towering loss.
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