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Planetary Unknown: David S. Ware, Cooper-Moore, William Parker, Muhammad Ali, AUM Fidelity, 2011

It was just about a year ago that David S. Ware was preparing reporters for the upcoming recording that would address the collective anxiety presented by the oncoming year of 2012. His secrecy about the band members with whom he would record did not prevent him from talking about the fact that the album would be totally improvised: an unusual performance ethic for Ware until his return to the stage with a 2009 solo live  performance on saxello, stritch and tenor, which became Saturnian, released by AUM Fidelity in 2010.

The new DSW quartet, Planetary Unknown, is made up of David S. Ware on saxophones, Cooper-Moore on piano, William Parker on bass, and Muhammad Ali, the brother of the late Rashied Ali, on drums. It is the first time this group has played together. The group can tune into the fact that Ware's huge blustery tone has changed since he no longer stands to play. He sits. But, Ware plays the hell out of his saxophones, which include the tenor on the first three cuts, sopranino on the second three and the stritch on the last.  He has honed a focal point with his instrument which, in ways, surpasses the character of his playing in his original longtime quartet with pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist Parker, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. 

Ware’s playing is linear as opposed to broad because his physical space is confined. He is his own center, his own vessel, his own vortex. He vibrates wholly within himself; he challenges the variations he can create climbing up and down the key pads. He plays every note and all the ones in between.  The members of the band respond to that. The music is controlled, inexorably intense and whirls around the configurations that leap from the saxophone.  Several times, the intensity abates and a calm spell is cast through the instruments. That might be interpreted as a discovery in the meditative state where “the intellect cannot go” and peace enters in, especially evident in the longest cut, “Passage Wudang,” and also in“Divination” and “Divination Unfathomable.”

Cooper-Moore’s piano work can run rampant over the entire range of keyboard but always becomes coherent, necessarily, for backing Ware. His solo in “Divination Unfathomable” isolates this range; his solo intro to " Divination" is remarkably melodic. The same is true for Parker. His pizzicato strives for a rhythmic statement which dips in and out of earshot; the resonance of the bass strings, however, never wanes. His arco playing touches dissonance; his final pizzicato solo in the last cut reconfirms his steadfast groundedness.   

Drummer Ali stays in the background; the cymbals hiss steadily and without much differentiation. At times, he skips across the snare.  In “Duality Is One,” a duo with Ware, Ali alternates using his hands and sticks on the snare at the beginning and then maintains cymbal-snare combinations to magnify the extremes of the variations that Ware states on the tenor. In fact, the entire band serves Ware in this way so that he can build his musical line and go from simple to complex without having to rely on himself to re-enter the musical space. 

The cadence and pattern of Ware’s speaking voice comes through more than once in how, on the horns, he repeats the same phrase, restrains himself or presses a split-tone for emphasis.  His arpeggios are concentrated and their richness motivated by the search for the next set of expressions from his internal being.  The last “Ancestry Supramental” is a gloriously rhythmic close, boasting stops and starts that are a complete surprise and which present an everlasting memory that reverberates in the final strike of the cymbal, inseparable from Parker’s last pluck and Ware’s last blurt on a slow downward scale run.


Track Listing: Passage Wudang; Shift; Duality Is One; Divination; Crystal Palace; Divination Unfathomable; Ancestry Supramental.
copyright 2011 Lyn Horton

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