David S. Ware - "Wheel of Life (excerpt)" (Onecept)
A year ago, we were concerned for this path-breaking saxophonist’s life. Not only has he recovered, thanks to a kidney transplant, but he is making music that stands with the best in his daunting catalog, music that expands upon the traditions he helped to establish over 40 years ago.
Certain improvised music albums begin with an invocation so powerful, of such a transcendent quality, that the listener is immediately encircled in the webs of possibility it generates. The shofar-like fifths of Coltrane’s Meditations and the raw vocalizations on Cecil Taylor’s Garden come to mind amongst a few others. Oncept joins this select group. As “Book of Krittika” commences, Ware brandishes three stritch notes so beautiful, packed with such vitality, that I find myself echoing Blake: “Oh clouds, unfold!” The brief solo that follows is reiterative, while presenting the implications of those three notes with the imagination and structural details only Ware can muster. He builds interregistral edifices of which Jimmy Lyons would be proud, returning constantly to that long opening tone. When bassist William Parker and percussionist Warren Smith enter, the music goes to an even higher level, one that is maintained throughout the nine compositions on offer. (There are also two excellent bonus tracks available to those who buy the album directly from AUM Fidelity.) To call this music free improvisation would be doing it a disservice, as the trio’s intimate communication births structure after structure with melody at the core. Each musician in the trio is a melodist, and in this context, William Parker’s penchant for alternating linearity and pointilism complements Ware’s similar approach, whether on stritch, saxello or his customary tenor. Listen to the counterpoint they spin on “Desire Worlds,” or on the luminous “Bardo,” replete with pauses as Smith’s tympani moan and rumble underneath some of the most colorful playing I’ve heard from Parker in some time.
Smith’s contributions deserve particular notice. Ware’s discography is chock full of fine drummers, no question about that, but to my ears, Smith comes the closest to matching Ware’s vision. His versatility is astounding, his keen ear for melody in the service of a timbral arsenal on a par with those of Rashied Ali and Tony Oxley. He is in full support of whatever Parker and Ware are laying down at any given moment, whether on traps or tymps. His tympani playing especially drives the point home — full of nuance and Protean in its detail while unflagging in sublimated energy. He makes use of the whole instrument, turning these often subordinate instruments into an orchestra. I suppose that’s what comes of working with everyone from Bill Dixon to Harry Partch over the past 50 years.
This extraordinary group interplay has also been captured with remarkable clarity, and special mention must be made of Michael Marciano’s superb recording, which, along with the playing, makes this perhaps the finest entry in AUM Fidelity’s catalog.