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David S. Ware’s Planetary Unknown - Live at Jazzfestival Saalfelden 2011

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Artist: David S. Ware’s Planetary Unknown

Album: Live at Jazzfestival Saalfelden 2011

Label: AUM Fidelity

Review date: Jul. 30, 2012

It was a long road back for David S. Ware, but since having his kidney procedure a few years back the reedist has been playing as vibrantly and as powerfully as he ever has. With a stunning series of solo recordings and the cracking recent combo Planetary Unknown (where Ware is joined by pianist Cooper-Moore, bassist William Parker, and drummer Muhammad Ali), the sax dynamo is deep into a productive period right now.

This live shot from last year consists of three long tracks filled with an incredibly tight, focused improvisatory vision from the leader. This is, quite frankly, the kind of long-form setting that can be dead dull without a fab group dynamic, clarity, and a sense of form. Planetary Unknown has these things in abundance, sizzling in the details and compelling over the duration. In terms of that group sound, it’s a corker. Ali’s cymbal oriented attack creates a kind of lateral sheen for all its momentum, and alongside Parker’s ever changing fauna and Cooper-Moore’s prickly, lusty historicisms, it contributes to a multiple music of different layers and sections, the whole pinwheeling together, now in perfect concert, now threatening to come apart. Cooper-Moore’s crashing, jabbing piano is completely compelling through, and with it Ware obsessively brings phrase after heated phrase, dealing with small cellular variations and changing attacks or intensities. He’s always been a vastly more subtle player than some have given him credit for, and that’s unmistakable here, even amidst all this energy.

The group reaches a boiling point quite quickly, with huge altissimo figures and dive bombs into the lower register, with Cooper-Moore’s big architecture a continually self-deconstructing frame (and in “Processional 1,” he’s got a lengthy solo that is marvelously well-paced and structured, with barrelhouse, stride, and early Cecil as part of his barrage and reassemblage). But at times almost imperceptibly, the music seems to relinquish some of its densities without losing motion or intensity, the power coming not through volume or ferocity but through nuance, a deftly handled inflection, total control of group dynamics. Check as evidence Ware’s gorgeous exchange with Muhammad’s brushes and Parker’s vigorous but subtle pizz. And Parker is all over the opening passages of “Processional 2,” with a popping, staccato passage that summons some of Ware’s most excoriating tenor work. But again, what impresses about this date is how – in the midst of such power – there is so much fragmentary cross-movement from the band, creating unexpected gaps and pause everywhere, the drama coming not just from their appearance but from the band’s reactions to them. And with “Processional 3,” they add to the spitfire, blister burn and fast-forwarding spider piano a gorgeous polytonality, a dark balladic space, and some exquisitely billowing piano shapes. These clouds gather and part, with that bewitching meteorology that makes Live at Jazzfestival Saalfelden 2011 such fine, fine music.

By Jason Bivins

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