Quartet for the End of Time | The Nation


Quartet for the End of Time

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David Ware was born in New Jersey in 1949. At the age of 9 he began playing saxophone--literally playing, by his own account: no tunes, no structure, no accompaniment, just the solitary sound of a horn. It's a discipline he has explored on occasion since, as on the unaccompanied From Silence to Music (1978) and Live in the Netherlands (2001). At 17 Ware enrolled at the Berklee School of Music in Boston and began a period of formal training. He appeared on record for the first time in 1968, on a session called The Third World led by alto saxophonist and flautist Abdul Hannan. Along with pianist Cooper-Moore and drummer Marc Edwards, Ware formed a group called Apogee, which also seems to have recorded. In 1973 Ware moved to New York City and distinguished himself in some of the best free-jazz groups of the day, including pianist Cecil Taylor's Unit and the drummer Andrew Cyrille's brilliant Maono ensemble.

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Brian Morton
Brian Morton is a former academic, Times of London journalist and BBC arts and music presenter. He currently writes and...

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Not until 1977 did Ware make an album under his own name. The Birth of a Being was issued on Hat Hut, a new label based in Switzerland, after Ware's work with the Unit came to the attention of the label's owner, Werner Uehlinger, a sponsor of Taylor's music. The following year Ware recorded a set of solo saxophone pieces and saxophone/cello duets with Jean-Charles Capon for the tiny European label Palm. These associations established a pattern still reflected in the provenance of the Live in the World tapes--Chiasso in Switzerland, Terni and Milan in Italy. Like many of his predecessors, Ware has long been as well-known across the Atlantic as at home, and perhaps more widely admired, and he spends much of his time in Paris.

What's more significant about the solo pieces on Palm's From Silence to Music is that apart from the significantly titled "From Deep Within," they are all still standard repertory songs--"Deep Purple," "Prelude to a Kiss" and Jimmy Van Heusen's "It Could Happen to You"--a clear sign that even before his major stylistic overhaul Ware was thinking in terms of conventional structures, however unconventionally played.

Living in the world is not always easy, and the period from 1978-88 were lean years for Ware. Though he practiced continually and clocked up important credits with Cyrille and a range of European improvisers, he was forced to earn his living as a messenger, delivery man and taxi driver. In 1988 Ware struck out anew, releasing his own Passage to Music on Silkheart, the first in a series of markedly personal albums. The quartet on Live in the World is essentially the group he has worked with since his Silkheart debut. It was a trio before the pianist Matthew Shipp came on board to record Great Bliss: Volume 1 & 2 in 1990. The band's anchor is William Parker, arguably the most influential bassist in free jazz today, and perhaps the most prolific. Like Ware, he has explored freedom and structure in equal measure, and has performed both as a soloist and as a leader of his own groups, notably the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, an enormous ensemble of improvisers. Parker's sonorous articulation is in a direct line from classic bassists like Jimmy Blanton, keystone of the greatest Duke Ellington band; Wilbur Ware, who worked with Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins; and Paul Chambers, one of the stars of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue quintet. A stalwart from the Apogee days, Marc Edwards was the first drummer, replaced in turn by Whit Dickey, Susie Ibarra, Hamid Drake and Guillermo E. Brown, the latter three of whom appear on Live in the World.

Each of these fine percussionists brings a different sensibility to the Ware quartet, from florid (Ibarra), to fiery (Drake), to deliberately understated (Brown). Yet all of them are keenly attuned in their individual ways to Ware's peculiar demands. The role of the percussionist in Ware's groups is not so much to propel Ware's playing as to surround it with rhythmic energy--to draw an analogy with the Coltrane bands of the mid-1960s, it's more like Rashied Ali's role than Elvin Jones's. Instead of playing one meter against another--the essence of Jones's polyrhythmic approach--they seem to play several simultaneously and in such a way as to give the music a rich, complex pulse that is virtually impossible to count off in the conventional way. All three perform superbly and idiomatically.

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