INTO THE UNKNOWN
by Bob Pomeroy
The best part of Phil Freeman’s book New York is Now is his description of the genesis of David S. Ware’s latest recording, Corridors & Parallels. Freeman was invited to the sessions as a journalist, but describes the sessions as a fan. Ware and his quartet were about to try something new. Pianist Matthew Shipp had just purchased a synthesizer and the quartet were going to go into the studio to improvise an album using the new instrument. Freeman relates his reservations about the long running avant-jazz group tampering with their sound. After the first night of recording, Freeman reflected, “It felt like nobody know where the whole thing was supposed to go, and they were just continuing to see if a clue would fall out of the air and show them the finish line.”. On the second session, Freeman is elated that things came together and the experiment worked. He admits “this was as beautiful as anything the quartet had ever recorded, but utterly unlike anything they’d ever played, or anything I’d ever heard. It’s a rare insight into the process of making an album.
If you haven’t heard of David S. Ware before, a bit of introduction is in order. Ware has been playing saxophone on the avant garde jazz scene for over 35 years. As a youth, he played in school bands and had some informal jam sessions with Sonny Rollins. As the 60’s flowed into the 70’s, Ware was an active player on the New York Loft Jazz scene which led to extended runs in bands led by Cecil Taylor and Andrew Cyrillic. In 1988, Ware formed his quartet with William Parker on bass, Marc Edwards on drums and a then-unknown Matthew Shipp on piano. The quartet has remained remarkably stable over the years with only a few changes in the drum chair. For the past few years, Guillermo Brown has been holding down that spot.
The David S. Ware Quartet has been at the vanguard of the free jazz renaissance in New York. The quartet has recorded for labels as diverse as the old punk rock bastion Homestead Records, independent jazz imprints like Aum Fidelity and Silkheart and the venerable giant, Columbia. Through all the incarnations on all the labels, the David S. Ware Quartet has garnered praise for their passion and originality.
Corridors & Parallels may be the David S. Ware Quartet’s most accessible CD to date. The real departure isn’t so much in the use of the synthesizer, as in how it’s used. On most of the tracks it’s hard to tell just where the keyboards are coming in. When Shipp uses the keyboard as a rhythmic instrument, he and drummer Guillermo Brown get some good grooves going. I particularly like the hyperactive samba that percolates under “Superimposed.” On other tracks, Shipp uses electronic washes to create textures for the other instruments to play off. This works especially well on the title track where the timber of William Parker’s bowed bass plays against Ware’s tenor sax and Shipp’s icy space tones. It’s only when Shipp uses the synth in a “normal’ keyboard mode that things don’t work as well. Luckily, Shipp doesn’t do this too often.
Changing as established format is a risk. You risk alienating your fans and you risk falling flat on your face. Of course, if you don’t take risks you’re almost ensuring stagnation. Corridors & Parallels is a risk that was worth taking. It is definitely a jazz record, but some of the new settings may appeal to people who generally prefer to listen to groups like the Orb. Where Ware and his Quartet will end up is anyone’s guess.
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