Reviews – DAVID S. WARE QUARTET    Freedom Suite (AUM023)

"This record is the deepest, most coherent, and most accessible DSWQ disc I've heard, and the best record of the year by far. Consider that a recommendation." - Nils Jacobson

by Howard Reich

Fearless, ferocious 'Freedom Suite'
The David S. Ware Quartet's combustive re-imagining of Sonny Rollins' classic "Freedom Suite" veers further from the original than Branford Marsalis' practically neo-classic version of the work earlier this year (on "Footsteps of Our Fathers"). For sheer ferocity of expression, fearlessness of conception and brilliance of delivery, the Ware version is hard to beat, the tenor saxophonist using Rollins' themes as springboards for thunderous saxophone rhetoric.

Granted, Ware's tenor orations often push into an abstract region that some listeners might call free jazz, yet his solos are so magnificent in their sweep, so propulsive in rhythmic drive and so linear in melodic development that they prove impossible to resist. With the formidable Matthew Shipp adding his all-over-the-keyboard virtuosity to a work originally recorded without piano, it's clear that this band has reconceived the original from top to bottom.

Guillermo E. Brown's impressionistic drums and William Parker's tonally resplendent bass help this quartet to sound much larger and mightier than the sum of its parts. In the end, this "Freedom Suite" is so broad in scope and vast in expressive range that it stands as a fitting response to Rollins' masterwork.

by Bill Shoemaker

Sonny Rollin's Freedom Suite (first issued on the Riverside album of the same name) is a protest jazz masterpiece, albeit one relegated to a back seat behind works by Charles Mingus, Max Roach, and even John Coltrane by some critics. There are several reasons for this. Despite being inspired by Rollins' first-hand experience of housing discrimination in New York, it was recorded in early 1958, and released before the Civil Rights Movement reached critical mass nationally. Shortly after its release, Rollins famously dropped out, causing the jazz press to scurry around attempting to discover which bridge he practised on at night. And, most importantly, the sidelong trio performance with bass player Oscar Pettiford and Roach on drums did not have the militant edge of pieces created just a few years later. Being coupled with a side of politically incorrect waltzes and show tunes arguably dissipated its impact.

The upshot is that "The Freedom Suite" is a natural, if overlooked reservoir for tenor saxophonists of David S. Ware's generation. Obviously Ware has long been well aware of the piece, having studied with Rollins before his mid-70s emergence. Yet it is somewhat surprising for Ware to give the piece a CD length reading, as so little of Rollins' influence is detectable even in Ware's earliest recordings (the notable exception being his take on Kurt Weill's "My Ship" on drummer Andrew Cyrille's 1978 Black Saint album Metamusician's Stomp). Instead, Ware quickly established a sound extrapolating the Fire Music nexus of spiritual and visceral intensities, placing little to no stock in Rollins' romanticism, humour, and interest in pop music.

But Ware's diamond-yielding force serves the spirit, if not the letter of Rollins' suite, as he compresses the original, modified A-B-C-B-D structure. He streamlines his arrangement by eliminating the restatement of the worksong-tinged waltz after the pivotal ballad movement, resulting in a sleek 40 minute reading. He also recast most of the meaterials. The first movement is more emphatic; the second movement is more piledriving than dancing; and the Ellington hued ballad is transformed into a passionate rubato outpouring. This gives the suite a far more contemporary emotional arc. In doing so, Ware puts the original in an arguably ambivalent light, dating Rollins' sensibilities, but proving the tensile strength of his music.

It is debatable who faced the more daunting challenge - Ware, bassist William Parker and drummer Guillermo E. Brown, who had to contend with the long shadows of, respectively, Rollins, Pettiford and Roach, or pianist Matthew Shipp, who had nothing to model his contribution on or deviate from. Regardless, they all rise to the occasion. Shipp hands in a remarkably mercurial performance, effortlessly pivoting between rhapsodic contrarian and propulsive accompanist and soloist. Though it is more reminiscent of another late 50s Rollins associate - Wilbur Ware - Parker's full sound and open swing feel is magnetic. And, Brown ably layers cross-rhythms to the brink of opacity without losing the essential rudimentary drive that is the crux of Roach's genius.

Yet, Ware's threshold was easily the highest and he cleared it convincingly. Just as Rollins had to rein in his good humour and his propensity to quote corny standards to make a compelling statement, Ware had to be slightly less withering than usual to convey the earthiness of Rollins' themes. His trademark exultancy prevails, but without turning the materials into scorched earth. Subsequently, he stays true to both Rollins and himself, which is the measure of a healthy sense of tradition.

"From the very first movement, Ware immediately hits a mammoth stride, taking off for other planes of there after a minimal thematic statement but never leaving the melody too far behind. The second movement establishes an astonishing swing on the strength of William Parker's interpolation of Oscar Pettiford's funky ostinato, only to be flipped on its ear for a resplendent single-chord coda that Ware uses to reel in the loose ends of the past fifty years' tenor saxophone vocabulary. Movement three offers a spacious departure from the original's melodic figures, allowing Ware to let loose once again as he fills the relaxed atmosphere with volumes of idyllic testament. The fourth and final movement threads Parker and Brown's pulse-swing perfection through to an utterly brilliant blues-drenched conclusion, with Shipp negotiating the precise midpoint between Cecil Taylor and Chucho Valdes to ease the transition along.

Upon realizing that this envisioning of "Freedom Suite" is twice as long as the original, some potential listeners may assume that the extra padding comes as a result of extensive blowing between the piece's melodic parameters. However, the opposite couldn't be truer - Ware has endowed the suite with a beauty of epic proportions that, while it does inject a great degree of musical freedom into Rollins' conceptual liberation, never relies on aimless meandering to achieve that goal. In fact, the suite's four movements, added piano and classic sense of interconnectedness recall A Love Supreme as much as Rollins' original - to put it plainly, jazz just doesn't get much better than this." - Scott Hreha

"The David S. Ware Quartet’s gorgeous remaking of Sonny Rollins’ 1958 composition “Freedom Suite” gives due indication that there is jazz music being made today that doesn’t fall into netherworld neo-squall freeform, new age shambala nonsense, or lambasted revivalism. For Ware & Co. render Rollins’ exposition in a style that is just as invigorating as the original hard bop standard. The instrumentation is near perfect in its construction and deconstruction of rhythm and melody, and the waves of sound that swim throughout this record make it one of the more invigorating jazz releases in recent years.

Like a late night conversation that spills into morning, Ware’s Freedom Suite occupies your mind for days to come. The record stands as a true testament to the fact that our most musical of musics indeed still thrives when applied by those who truly understand its structure, intent, history, and most of all, possibilities." - Ben Schulman

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