Friday, October 19, 2012

David S. Ware has left us

Last night I logged onto Facebook and the very first post that I saw mentioned that David S. Ware had died. That's a serious tragedy for a number of reasons. The first reason relates to Ware's incredible musical skills. He had such a massive sound on the tenor saxophone, really in a direct lineage from John Coltrane, where a gruff tone was driven by a searching quality, a desire to keep moving forward. At the same time it could be really delicate too. He covered "The Way We Were," for Pete's sake! On a couple albums, no less. Of course, that tune still got some heavy treatment, but there was a sensitivity to it. He wasn't mocking the song or trying to stomp all over it.

The first time Ware brought his quartet to Pittsburgh, I was stoked. During college I heard his album Flight of i and it really seemed to me like a new chapter in the Coltrane Quartet style of music. There were basic structures to the tunes, from which they lifted off the ground and took to great heights. It was a few years later that they came to CMU, and the show was really disappointing. It sounded like one big cacaphony with everyone soloing at once and not connecting. The show had been co-sponsored by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, and I was psyched that my sixth grade teacher was in the audience. I wanted to talk to her afterwards about the show, but she was gone before the band finished. The volume had scared her and something other, older patrons off, I guess.

Susie Ibarra had just joined the band (I had previewed the show and interviewed Ware, and thought Whit Dickey was going to be with them, until I got there) and she was drowned out by the rest of the band. It was a while before I realized that the real culprits of this mess were the two idiot soundmen from CMU. (I distinctly remember one of them unplugging the main speakers at the end of the night while the p.a. was turned on, created a loud, low register hum.) When Ware and the band (Ibarra, Matthew Shipp and William Parker) came back a year or two later, it was like night and day. They were on and sounded wonderful. Still wild and turbulent at times, but great.

Last year, Ware released an album with Parker, pianist Cooper-Moore and rarely-heard drummer Muhammad Ali (brother of the late Rashied Ali), which I was kind of lukewarm on. The band itself was great, but the improvisations were a mixed bag. Well now there's a live release by the same band out on AUM Fidelity and I feel like I need to hear it. That's the thing about Ware: there will always be a strong quality to his work that keeps you coming back to it, knowing that there is always something strong and intense to grab you. Ever since an illness over the past couple years that had him actually doing self-dialysis due to a bad kidney (what is this world coming to when an artist has to go through that?) he style changed a little, getting more focused and a little less bombastic. Which explains why his solo saxophone albums are also such an enjoyable listen.

Grab as many of his releases as you can now and enjoy them. Rest is peace, David. Whereever you are, I hope John Tchicai greeted you there and that you're playing some far out music together. Tell John I'm sorry I only heard about his October 8 passing last night too. I had a rough week too.

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