Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
David S. Ware
David S. Ware’s Quartet with Matthew Shipp, William Parker and a succession of drummers concluding with Guillermo E. Brown was ecstatic jazz’s flagship, whose final 2006 Vision Festival concert had an end-of-an-era aura around it. However, the devotional impetus of the tenor saxophonist’s music precluded a long absence. Ware has returned leading an ensemble that places his fervor in a bracing new light. The obvious change is Joe Morris’ straight guitar sound, which is skeletal compared to Shipp’s colossal chords and clusters. Yet, instead of running head-on with Shipp’s counter, concussive force, Ware’s bellowed themes find a draft to ride in Morris’ linear approach, even at its most entwined and thorny. Morris also occasionally creates an earthy swing feel that securely connects Ware to jazz’s tenor tradition. Integral to this solder is the other significant personnel change in Ware’s line-up – Warren Smith. Ware’s had some excellent drummers; but they don’t come up to Smith’s level of mastery as a complete concert percussionist who, like Max Roach, approaches the traps as “multiple percussion.” Smith is constantly fleshing out the contours of a composition; a dicey proposition given that Ware’s writing often forgoes easy resolution. Smith’s deft dovetailing, which often entails a counterpoint between parts of his kit, helps keeps the music from muddying into an opaque mass. In this regard, the mesh of Smith’s approach with Parker’s patented mix of vertebrae-like motives, unadorned counter-melodies and arco textures is crucial. While Ware’s new palette on Shakti is the headline, it is his performances that comprise the body of the argument for the album. There are plenty of saxophonists who have a commanding presence; few have as many ways of establishing it as Ware. In his more tradition-evoking passages, his low and mid registers have brawn and soul that beg comparison with jazz’s most iconic boss sound practitioners. His altissimo sears like few others, past or present. But, Ware also does everything from delving into melodies that seem centuries older than jazz itself to creating out-of-nowhere whorls of sound. Shakti is both a successful turning of the page for Ware, as well as a reminder of just how compelling a figure he remains.
Jürg Wickihalder Overseas Quartet
It will be five years in June since Steve Lacy died, leaving behind one of the richest legacies – as both a composer and improviser – in jazz. Swiss saxophonist Jürg Wickihalder has made a start at coming to grips with that legacy, using Lacy’s music as a jumping off point for his own new developments. Furioso, the debut recording by his Overseas Quartet with Italian reed player Achille Succi and New York-based brothers Mark and Kevin Zubek on bass and drums respectively, is at its best when the spirit of Lacy’s art, rather than a literal duplication of his style, informs the music. Getting a grip on the creative spirit that animates great music is, of course, a much more difficult task. Wickihalder has certainly paid attention to the structure of Lacy’s music. Sometimes you hear scraps of Lacy in Wickihalder’s composing, such as the opening of “Warm-up Party.” Evidence of his school days with Lacy’s improvising is heard during his solo on “The Pocket Trumpet Man.” But Wickihalder and his band strike out on their own, they make exciting, witty, and swinging jazz. Wickihalder has a warmer, wetter sound than Lacy, and a more vulnerable side to his alto sound. He spikes his lines with peeved split tones, ironic twitters, joyous little whoops, but they never derail the development of his solos. His improvisations on “Warm-up Party” and “Surfing and Flying” may not end up where you expect, but they always sound like he knows where he’s going. Wickihalder planes the edges of his compositions a bit smoother than Lacy’s, but if they are not as harshly angled, they are just as rigorously constructed and playful. Wickihalder enjoys the pleasures of genre more directly than Lacy, who drew on many sources, but rarely if ever composed in a particular genre. Wickihalder’s “Lovers” is a jazz-tango; “The Pocket Trumpet Man” a close parallel to Don Cherry’s melodic approach; “The Moonwalk” has all the frenetic energy and hilarity of a silent film or cartoon soundtrack; the shade of Ornette Coleman hovers over “Desert Voices.”
The Zubek brothers provide a strong, supple, clear foundation for the music; another lesson clearly learned from Lacy’s several bands. Succi, heard on alto sax and bass clarinet, provides just enough rhythmic tension to make an engaging foil for Wickihalder. He throws Wickihalder and the quartet off balance in a good way on “The Pocket Trumpet Man, and “Lovers.” His bass clarinet solo on “The Valley,” balances clarity and grit, lyricism and sound, in equal measure for one of the album’s highlights.
Perhaps the repeated comparisons to Lacy are misleading. The music of Wickihalder and the Overseas Quartet is clever and joyful music. It delights in mind as well as the physical pleasures of swing and the emotional appeal of melody. And that is plenty enough to recommend it.