Friday, October 19, 2012

Into the Unknown: David S. Ware (1949-2012)

DSW by Peter Gannushkin
I’m trying to remember the exact context surrounding when I first heard the music of saxophonist/composer David S. Ware. I believe I picked up Cryptology (Homestead, 1994) at Kief’s, a stereo/CD store in Lawrence, Kansas, around 1997. It was around the same time that I was buying records by Ayler, Coltrane, Dolphy, Cecil and Ornette. If memory serves, Bells and Expression were the first two jazz records I bought, and appropriately enough, Cryptology would have come shortly after. It is a wonderful quartet date with bassist William Parker, pianist Matthew Shipp, and drummer Whit Dickey. As I got into the music, the historical foundations of free jazz and creative improvisation seemed more important, so more recent practice wasn’t in the forefront of my mind. Also, I was living in Kansas and there wasn’t exactly much live creative music to see – watching people work at their craft is a whole ‘nother sphere, and had I been in New York then I might have taken a different approach. The only time I ever saw Mr. Ware perform was in the early Aughts, in a duo with the late drummer Rashied Ali. Although today that sounds like a heavy pairing, what I witnessed then seemed unsuccessful. Ware was peeling the paint off the hall with low, resonant peals that were repeated over and over, while Ali was trying to get a swing thing going. Were I to hear it now, my ears would be different and I might be more into it than I was then, but it’s hard to say.

Over the past several years, I’ve come back to Ware’s music with greater interest and appreciation. His recordings with Shipp, Parker, and drummers Marc D. Edwards, Whit Dickey, Susie Ibarra and Guillermo E. Brown are treasured documents of contemporary music. His recent solo recordings and Planetary Unknown discs (with Parker, drummer Muhammad Ali and pianist Cooper-Moore) are absolutely incredible. There’s some really nice stuff with Joe Morris and Warren Smith that’s well worth hearing, too. And though the vinyl has been in rotation here at the offices of Ni Kantu for many years, it surprises me that the lone commercially released recording of Apogee (1979’s Birth of a Being, with Cooper-Moore and Edwards) has never made it to CD. It’s a motherfucker.

What strikes me now (and what didn’t always strike younger ears) is how consistently lyrical Ware’s music is. At times it certainly takes on the notion of the Abstract Sublime, in terms of confronting a vast solitude and rejoicing, confronting and accepting aloneness before the universe and giving a spiritual notion to being “Alone Together.” At other times, Ware’s music and that of his colleagues plays out as a contrast between whorls and stoic monoliths – perhaps that’s where the curious penchant for repeated phrases comes in. But lyric and swing, as well as a tremendous blues feeling, are endemic to this music as far-out as it might get.

It’s ironic that I didn’t appreciate those elements when they were presented to me in earlier listening sessions, because that was precisely what I took to in listening to Ware’s forebears. I suppose that with some people’s music it just takes time. Of course, the fact that age/experience/mortality brings out a certain kind of patient nuance as artists grow older is also worth noting – we hear something different in later Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Ornette, Bill Dixon, and Cecil than we do in their earlier music. Ware’s recent recordings are full of this, or at least one interprets them as such, made with the composer’s life in the balance. They are both feisty and reflective, which are pretty natural feelings when encountering one’s mortality. Ware made his first recording in 1968, as a sideman with Boston altoist Abdul-Hannan, and was active throughout the 1970s in the Northeast, playing with Cecil, drummer Andrew Cyrille, William Parker, and in his own groups, though it wasn’t until the 1990s that a broader audience came to his work. This was around the time that “free jazz” was entering the consciousness of independent music fans as an alternative to mainstream jazz, or even punk rock, and imbued with the latter’s values of high energy, political consciousness, and self-expression. The appeal of Ware and his Quartet in this climate seems now like a no-brainer.

Following years of dialysis and a kidney transplant, David S. Ware passed last night, October 18, 2012. He was 62. At the time I was taking in the music of altoist Jemeel Moondoc, another loft-jazz figure who has enjoyed a somewhat recent renaissance, at The Stone. His new quartet with trumpeter Matt Lavelle (out of the Woody Shaw/Charles Tolliver bag), bassist Henry Grimes and an elegantly swinging Newman Taylor Baker really brought it. With more rehearsal and gigs under their belt, this quartet could be the reprisal of Muntu that some of us have been hoping for. Afterwards on my way home I met and had a wonderful conversation with tenorman Kalaparusha, who often plays at the 14th St./Union Square 4/5/6 stop. It was a night of giants, and the music in the air was sublime. Whether we knew it at the time or not, we were celebrating (as Muhal Richard Abrams titled it) Things to Come from Those Now Gone.

Planetary Unknown Live at Jazzfestival Saalfelden 2011 (Aum Fidelity):

Precessional 3


  1. Thanks for your article - very much appreciated.
    Hope you don't mind that I offered a link at IS to it.

  2. Not at all, thanks. Glad you put up the Hat and Palm LPs on Inconstant Sol. Too bad they as yet have not been reissued.

  3. Yes a proper reissue would be most welcome on my side as well. (I would gladly delete the links.) is a notion in line with "Ni Kantu's Wish List".