There's this notion in the world of sculpture that the artist is merely freeing the shape locked within the raw source material. This always seemed like a great way to describe the mystery of a particular piece of abstract art. The artist begins with a big chunk of rock and starts to chisel, saw, chip, buff and sweat away at it until ... well, the piece is done.
But what about music? Does this somewhat artificial construct shed any light on a free-leaning jazz composition? Think about it for a while. Then check out David S. Ware's Live In The World, an ambitious 3-CD set of live recordings.
The lineup of Matthew Shipp (piano) and William Parker (bass) is complemented by a different drummer on each disc. Disc one, recorded in Chiasso, Switzerland, features Susie Ibarra. Disc two (Terni, Italy): Hamid Drake. Guillermo E. Brown takes the chair on disc three (from Milano, Italy). Ware has been on the jazz scene for well over thirty years and is, to these ears, one of the most powerful and compelling saxophone voices of modern jazz. His sound has the 'air' of Sonny Rollins right alongside the spiritual howl of an Albert Ayler or even the great John Coltrane. While you can definitely hear Ware's reverence for the masters of jazz, he's not content to just revisit and polish the past.
Now, back to the unlocked inner secrets of sculpture. If we think of music as sculpted air (something I've got to admit to thinking about often), the improvised segments of a piece make an attempt (in real time) to construct a 'sound object.' Yes, you're saying ... but the sculptor is creating art by subtraction. Fair enough, but: if you think of the initial theme of a tune as the raw material, the improvisation can then mold and chip away at it until it bears very little resemblance to its former self. Through the improvisation, the art moves closer to what it wants to be.
Take Ware's famous deconstruction of The Way We Were." We all know the curves of that pretty melody ... until Matthew Shipp's brutally percussive piano chords signal the beginning of the group's metamorphosis effort. A minute or so later and Ware's horn restates that theme before shifting into pull-the-melody-apart mode. The 'mystery art' that emerges is shattering. The set-closing Mikuro's Blues" starts off with a quick series of awkward and angular phrases before getting into the main theme of ascending chords, which is then used as a jumping-off point to some muscular sax runs. Only the slinky precision and 'weight' of the rhythm section keeps Ware connected to the earth as his improvisations get to glowin' with intensity.
Disc two burns with like passion right from the start with the adrenaline rush of Elder's Path." The contrast between the subtle timekeeping of Ibarra vs. the athletic fills of Drake is immediately obvious. What's interesting is that this doesn't necessarily make the music heavier or more intense ... but perhaps drives the free play in a different direction. The midset Sentient Compassion" puts the spotlight on Parker, who turns in an extended bowed bass solo as the band supports him with the tiniest hints of thematic fragments. Aural telepathy is an overused idea in my own reviewer-space but here, it just fits.
The final sculpture of this collection is the four-part Freedom Suite." Ware seemed to be particularly inspired on that night in Milan as his runs had that careening quality of late-era Coltrane. The uninitiated might at fist hear a man without a plan running around in the wilderness. Give it a little time and the underlying ideas spawning the improvisations will make themselves known. Hey, I used to think that Coltrane had lost his mind on Interstellar Space. No, silly me, he was a genious. This last set contains more 'space' than the others, with ample room for more ambient group improv. Maybe not as intense as the rest of this four-hour marathon, but surely a fitting conclusion.
The fan in me has to admit that I've been cheering for David S. Ware ever since the release of 1998's Go See The World. To some, Ware's vision may indeed sculpt objects with a high What the ... ?" factor. For the more adventurous though, it's a big 'ole world out there.