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David S. Ware Quartet - Freedom Suite

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Artist: David S. Ware Quartet

Album: Freedom Suite

Label: AUM Fidelity

Review date: Oct. 7, 2002

It's Still Free Improv

The David S. Ware Quartet’s new AUM Fidelity CD consists solely of a forty-minute, four-part rendition of Sonny Rollins’ 1958 epic “Freedom Suite.” After last year’s Corridors and Parallels, which found pianist Matthew Shipp experimenting with a synthesizer while Ware blasted away, the question on my mind is: Why? And why now?

Did Ware want to prove he belongs to the jazz tradition? Possibly, but anyone who couldn’t have made the connection before now is either conservative to the point of being delusional or simply a fool. And those conservative-delusional types probably won’t be convinced by Freedom Suite anyway, since Ware usually plays Rollins’ themes and then takes them straight to outer space. Another guess: did Ware simply want to introduce his many young-ish fans to Rollins’ work? Whatever his reasons, Freedom Suite is one of the better of Ware’s recent albums, which is to say that it’s very good indeed.

AUM Fidelity claims that Ware’s band “swing[s] like mad” here, but not many of Freedom Suite’s improvised sections swing in a conventional manner, despite the presence of über-swinging drummer Guillermo E. Brown (who admittedly swings more in a Hamid Drake pan-everything kind of way than a Max Roach sort of way, but still). Ware and Brown, along with pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker, present the heads of Rollins’ compositions fairly straightforwardly, but the improvisations that follow are usually as free as you please. Only the vamp-y second track is straight enough to tap along with. (And the improvised sections in Ware’s own compositions are often vamp-based anyway — check out “Mikuro’s Blues” from Ware’s 1998 album Go See The World.)

All of which is to say that the fact that Rollins wrote some of the melodies here can be a bit distracting. It’s not distracting because of what the record actually sounds like, because the melodies are lovely, and they’re flexible enough to make sense in the context of Ware’s searching saxophone cries. Rather, the presence of Sonny Rollins’ name is distracting in the sense that it makes me want to think that Freedom Suite is as much about Rollins as it is about Ware.

Really, though, this album is just business as usual for Ware — another terrific free jazz record featuring his huge, roaring saxophone tone and Shipp’s spectacularly tangled piano runs. Ware’s Freedom Suite is about Rollins, sure, but it’s also about John Coltrane and Albert Ayler and all the other musicians who’ve shaped Ware’s sound. Think of Freedom Suite, then, not as a faithful homage to Rollins, but as yet another showcase for one of the best groups free improv has to offer.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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