|| David S. Ware Quartet
Great Bliss vol.2
Cat. No.: SHCD128
David S. Ware flute, tenor sax, saxello, stritch
Matthew Shipp piano
William Parker bass
Marc Edwards drums, tympany, chimes, gongs
1. One Two Three (David S. Ware) 12:00
2. Emptiness (David S. Ware) 4:00
3. Primary Piece III (David S. Ware) 8:30
4. Saxelloscape Two (David S. Ware) 5:00
5. The Child Without - The Child Within (David S. Ware) 10:50
6. Stritchland (David S. Ware) 12:15
7. Low Strata (David S. Ware) 6:20
8. Reign of Peace (David S. Ware) 11:00
Total time: 69:55
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"Along with his potent tenor, Ware's rugged flute work is particularly noteworthy."
Milo Fine, Cadence, June 1993
"Despite the major muscles this quartet flexes, I still find my favotite
track to be Saxelloscape One, a sassy, acidic virtuoso solo that's got
to be the definitive statement on the instrument."
John Baxter, Option, March-April 1993
The 1980s saw the rise of new ways of structuring unnotated improvisation. Conductor
Butch Morris spontaneously orchestrates the music of his players with an extensive
and eloquent vocabulary of hand gestures. Anthony Braxton's compositions often
contain detailed instructions to a performer, without prescribing actual pitches.
John Zorn organizes elaborate game plans for improvisers. A few weeks after David
S. Ware's Great Bliss project was recorded, at a performance by his bassist,
William Parker's sextet, when one of the four horn players was soloing, the others
would confer verbally and via hand-signals to concoct varied hacking figures.
(Which is a modern version of the way Kansas City swing bands would set background
riffs.) It's been a long time since improvised music jazz has been
simply a matter of blowing on changes or pure spontaneous composition. Not to
knock either practice, but there are other methods.
In readying his quartet for the Great Bliss sessions, David S. Wart followed
yet another plan. The way albums are made these days, musicians are lucky to get
two days of rehearsal before hitting the studio. But for this early January session,
Ware rehearsed his quartet throughout the fall, starting in September, and for
five days straight prior to recording. "It takes a long time to prepare cats,
the way I like to do things," Ware says with some understatement.
The reason it takes so long is that the pieces featuring David's limpid flute
and vocalized stritch and saxello are 'pure concept', the composer explains. (The
tenor saxophone pieces have designated, if hardly immutable melodies and chords.)
"The rehearsals are a performance we keep working on concepts till
they crystallize. This practice is not, one should note, a misguided (and always
futile) attempt to repeat fortuitous group improvisations. David says he taped
the performance/rehearsals, and listened to each tape once to hear what was or
wasn't working. Then it was history.
As pianist Matthew Shipp explains it, "In rehearsal we worked with very specific
concepts. If something worked we kept it not note for note, obviously,
but the idea. When we first started rehearsing we just played; David had certain
ideas of how something in one person's vocabulary fit with something in someone
else's. The next week he'd talk about which things fit, and the music would evolve
William Parker amplifies the point. "In rehearsal, we were learning the vocabulary
of the music. Every day we'd meet and go over forms, and which sounds we'd use
in a piece; the freedom would come from how we'd use those sounds. David structured
it so that every piece used a different area of sound. On a particular piece I
might play pizzicato, or use a bow, but I might bow in a different area on different
You can gauge the success of that method by how varied these pieces are, from
the brooding stateliness of "One Two Three" and the ritual focus of
"Emptiness" (a vehicle for the leader's exceptionally deft flute), to
Ware's impassioned recitation of "The Child Without - The Child Wirhin"
and the swagger of the tenor-driven "Primary Piece" I love the
charging, marching finish to the 4/4 burning of "Stritchland."
(After a smoking false start of that last piece, Marc asked solicitiously, Slow
it down?" Speed it up Jack," David shot back, and everyone let out a
"Nothing was over-rehearsed," William Parker says. "David wanted
the music to be as clear as possible but still have that initial lift to
be loose, to feel like we were approaching it for the first time. It's not what
you play but how you play it. If you play it wrong, it could come out corny, or
not at all. You can get distracted when you go into the studio, but we'd rehearsed
so much, we weren't nervous." Ware's sidefolk were visibly enjoying themselves;
recording one piece, William did a bobbing dance on his high stool while playing;
on "Primary Piece," Matthew rocked back and forth on the piano bench
in time to the music. Marc Edwards moved animatedly among the various percussion
instruments that had been trucked in for the flute pieces instruments which
he played with the same agility, sensitivity and quick reflexes he brings to the
Parker says, "I enjoy working with this band a lot; I get a real good feeling
from everybody. Everyone has developed his own language on his instrument. It's
always nice to play with people who don't say, 'You're getting in my way.' You
can play what you want without hampering their style. The more you play, the more
they can play themselves. Matthew really suprised me a lot he didn't change
his own style when certain different things happened. He organically reworked
it to fit the band's style."
That's part of the reason this music sounds so explosive. Even on a 'fixed' composition
like "Primary Piece," Wart takes the music out in short order,
so no one feels held back. As David says, music should bring out an individual's
inner qualities. He sets them free so he we can hear what they can
The best example may be "One Two Three," which evolved out of a very
different piece Ware and company played at their second rehearsal back in the
fall. This version unfolds and resolves with symmetrical clarity: Shipp's percussive
inside-the-piano solo at the top is mirrored and balanced by Marc Edwards' melodic
drum solo at the close. (Maybe that should read harmonic drum solo: listen to
the way he implies the piece's three hypnotic chords with his cymbals.)
Shipp observes, "Working with David was the first time I ever played inside
the piano I was surprised. I heard a concept of how I could do it right
away; I found a whole world inside the piano that solidified right away. I'll
probably do more of it in the future." He does sound perfectly at home, plucking
the piano's strings; some players who use the technique sound like they're selecting
notes more or less at random, that they're more interested in the timbre than
specific pitches. (Which is understandable it's hard to get your bearings
when you're staring at a big zither of strings instead of a black and white keyboard.)
Shipp's note choices, as you can bear, are specific.
"David likes people to shine," his old friend and musical alter ego
Marc Edwards says. "You don't have to worry about playing too long. And if
you're playing very strong, he's not intimidated by that. I feel that's the mark
of a true master. It's like when Coltrane would wave Albert Ayler onto the bandstand
with him 'Hey, let's make music together.' He wasn't worried about letting
someone else play."
David S. Ware is mindful of an established artist's obligation to nurture his
colleagues. "Musicians have a responsibility to be aware of the future as
well as the past. That's just as important as a sense of history in everything,
not just music. You have to try to help the younger generation of players, so
that their path will be easier to tread. In jazz, this spirit of helping one another
is not as widespread as it could be. Some musicians have done it, I have to give
them credit: Miles and Dizzy, Coltrane and Mingus, they weren't shy about giving
young talent a chance.
"If I can give someone like Matthew a little extra play, I'll do it, 'cause
his talent is worth it. If I'm aware of that, why shouldn't I do something for
The two-volume Great Bliss project marks Matthew Shipp's second appearance
on record. (The first was a duo set on Cadence Jazz 1037 with altoist Rob Brown,
who has since recorded his own Silkheart date: Breath Rhyme, Silkheart
122.) Matthew is little known as of this writing, but he'll catch a lot of ears
with his strong and singular work on these dates.
Matthew Shipp says, "I've studied with a few teachers the most influential
was Dennis Sandole but still consider myself self-taught. I went to the
New England Conservatory for a year, at the encouragement of Ran Blake. He's a
really original player, but I hung out with him more than I studied with him.
I didn't really go to class I'd wake up in the morning and practice till
I went to sleep at night. If you hear a resemblance between Ran's use of space
and mine, it's probably because we come from the same sources. We both love Monk,
Bartok, Webern and Ellington. I hate to jump on a bandwagon everyone loves
Ellington but he could convey so much information with one chord."
Given Shipp's use of extended techniques not to mention his elbows
you might assume Cecil Taylor is an influence. "He's bad, what can I say?
But I consciously stay away from his vocabulary I like a leaner texture.
I see myself coming more from Bud Powell; I'm dealing with lines and chords as
bebop players do, even if I'm not playing A-minor-seven to D-seven. The dense
lines form their own harmonic identity. And I'm a huge fan of Fats Waller's solo
piano work that power, elegance, color, humor and cohesiveness.
Since 1986, Shipp has worked a lot with William Parker in various trios (with
cellist Abdul Wadud or the late drummer Steve McCall) and quartets (with cellist
Akua Dixon and drummer Dennis Charles; with McCall and trumpeter Leo Smith).
William Parker Cecil Taylor's bassist throughout the '80s (and still on
the case in 1990) first played with Ware and Marc Edwards in 1973, in a
one-shot Taylor big band. He and David continued to play together sporadically
in the latter half of the decade. William hired David for a big band concert at
Soundscape in the early '80s, and used him on a (regrettably unreleased) trio
recording with Dennis Charles at the traps. David's 1988 Passage to Music,
a trio recording with Mart Edwards, was the first release on which they're heard
together. A couple of weeks before these present sessions, Parker and Ware were
on stage together as part of a Cecil Taylor Unit that played four nights at New
York's Knitting Factory.
Of his fierce, justly celebrated bowing, Parker says, "That's something I
heard since I began playing the bass. I found I could do a lot of things with
the bow, and with the vocabulary of it. For a long time, I played without an amp,
and in some situations, playing with a bow is louder than pizzicato playing. And
Jimmy Garrison was big on bowing, as far as learning the bass was concerned. Doing
long bows is fundamental for your tone." Parker is such a modest man, it's
not generally known that he studied with an enviable array of bassists in the
late '60s and early '70s: Garrison, Richard Davis, Wilbur Ware and Milt Hinton.
"They all had something different to offer," he says, then lets out
a genial laugh: "I don't even think Wilbur had a bow."
Marc Edwards first hit the scene almost two decades ago, but may still be a new
name to many. "I always call myself the forgotten Cecil Taylor drummer,"
he says with a self-deprecating laugh. "Everyone remembers all of them but
me." For the record, Edwards (along with David S. Ware) is heard on Cecil's
1976 Dark to Themselves (Enja). But Taylor first tapped them three years
earlier, for the 1973 big band performance at Carnegie Hall referred to above;
Mart's fellow percussionists there included Andrew Cyrille, Sonny Murray and Rashid
Bakr. (William Parker was one of two bassists on the date.)
"I started playing drums in junior high school," says Edwards, who was
born in Harlem in 1949. During his school years he was a member of the all-city
high school band, and played in a drum-and-bugle corps whose leader had the band
playing African drum-choir music. "Rodney Bacot, a fellow bandmember at George
Washington High School, introduced me to the new music. I was initially skeptical
I thought I knew all about music from listening to the Blue Note cats.
But I wanted to understand this stuff, wanted to be able to explain it as a musician.
I didn't know at the time it would be my calling in lift.
Edwards headed to Boston in 1968 to attend Berklee School of Music, so he could
study with Alan Dawson, former teacher of Marc's then-idol Tony Williams. Ware
was also living in Boston at the time. "I had the sense that when I went
to Boston, something there would change my life. When I met David, I said, 'That's
it.' He'd been looking for a drummer, and formed a trio with me and pianist Gene
Ashton. We played a lot of gigs, rehearsed every day and developed an intuitive
approach. We didn't use any music at the time we could anticipate each
other so well, we could respond as if by magic. While I was in Boston I also played
in the notorious 'Combat Zone,' where drums and organ would play for strippers.
There I was tutored in the fine art of drumming by Lennie Nelson, who was playing
in the club across the street.
"David and I moved to New York in 1973, and played a lot at Studio Rivbea.
But Cecil had already heard about us from Boston we'd developed a certain
notoriety up there."
Early in 1976, Ware and Edwards worked with Taylor playing the music to Adrienne
Kennedy's play, A Rat's Mass, and subsequently did a couple of tours with
the Taylor Unit. "When the European tour was over, I left the group,"
Marc remembers. "When cats leave a band it's either about money or creative
differences it wasn't creative differences," he laughs. "I also
got married in December of 1976. David stayed with the band, but he called me
to do his Hat Hut record, Birth of a Being. " The band on that date
was the trio with Gent Ashton; it was recorded in April of 1977.
"After that I got a day job, and was off the scene for 10 years," continues
Marc. "But David and I stayed on touch. In 1986 or '87, I got inspired to
play again, and eventually we got together to play." His comeback album was
David's Passage to Music. "Now that we're together again, it's a little
different. The basic rapport is there, but I'm older now, and have had different
experiences, and the music is coming through a little differently. Now I'm deliberately
using more basic, traditional elements; my influences in playing the new music
come from Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Tony Williams and Max Roach.
"I'm now going in a much more melodic direction. I can take a simple phrase,
and develop it, move to another one, and develop off of that." Which sounds
a little like the way Cecil Taylor's piano solos evolve. But Marc says, "That's
something Alan Dawson taught me. Initially I resisted it, but it's finally starting
to manifest itself after all these years. I like to take a solo people can hum."
"My first instrument in elementary school was the violin. In junior high,
I'd hoped to play tenor sax, but the section was full. That's how I wound up on
drums. But I've always loved the tenor." In light of Marc's melodic bent,
I ask if he considers himself a saxophonist who plays the drums. "Hmmm
that's a good one. After this last date, I'd have to say yes. But you know, David
has such a keen sense of rhythm, I think of him as a drummer who plays the saxophone."