Bassist Wilbur Ware never really received proper due during his lifetime. Prior to the pressing of Super Bass, the number of released sessions featuring him as a leader could be counted on a single finger. This archival package doubles that sum and does so with a studio date from January 1968 that promises much on paper. Originally conceived as the seventh entry in the “Dolphy Series,” an anthology of albums produced by saxophonist Clifford Jordan for the Strata-East label subsidiary Frontier, the music finds Ware collaborating with not only Jordan, but also trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell. The over-used appellation “all-star” was coined for momentous meetings just such as this one.
Ware’s widow, Gloria, had a big hand in the project, working under the auspices of the Wilbur Ware Institute, a Chicago-based educational non-profit that has direct parallels to the AACM in terms of purview and purpose. She pens the liners, running down the particulars of her husband’s colorful career in the employ of such luminaries as Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and Sun Ra, and a selected discography of his session work is also included. Even with the enviable resume, Ware was still definitely a “musician’s musician,” in that his reputation amongst his peers always seemed leagues ahead of the accolades accorded him by the listening public.
Two bass solos, “Symphony for Jr.” and “By Myself,” account for nearly a third of the disc’s hour-long program and together they tabulate the myriad musical reasons behind Ware’s sterling rep. With the space to stretch and digress, the singular elements of his deceptively simple rhythmic suspensions and displacements are on full display. His loping ingenuity, particularly in the context of the slightly shorter second cut, doesn’t wane. Both pieces are threaded with precision double stops and other exercises in adroit digital dexterity, not the least bit hindered by the stout booming tone he wrings from the strings. Neither surpasses the apex in brevity and brilliance of say his epochal “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” solo with Rollins at the Village Vanguard in ’57, but together with the closing spoken monologue “Wilbur Reflects,” they represent the most complete portrait in sound of Ware — the musician — to date.
The quartet cuts only enhance the picture by featuring Ware in the company of his colleagues, where his superlative skills at ceaselessly creative accompaniment also shine. The absence of piano works wonders in this regard, allowing Ware to fill the cracks in close concert with Blackwell, who while slightly tentative in places, regularly shows off his masterly command of dynamics, particularly on the magnificent “Wilbur’s Red Cross.” Jordan blows with authority and soul throughout, whether on his own simmering blues “Mod House” or the muted reverie “A Real Nice Lady.” Cherry is only slightly less focused, and the horns make for winning tandem. Alternate takes of two tunes don’t add much to their original iterations, and one is marred by an abrupt tape end, but considering the rarity of the music to begin with, it’s a pleasure to have them, too. Forty-five years is a long time to wait for a revelatory set such as this. What it means for renewed exposure to Ware’s artistry makes the trade well worth it.