"Ware says of this music, 'Just empty yourself and let the music take you.' And with this recording, his unit delivers heart-felt, adventurous music that captivates throughout. The session captures a striking ensemble playing with impassioned energy and decisive empathy."
Michael Rosenstein, Cadence, May 1993
"The way I play the saxophone now is the same way I've been playing it since I picked it up in 1959," Ware told me during a break in recording the two-volume Great Bliss project. "Of course I listened to all the great musicians of the '60s – Ornette Coleman, Coltrane, Rollins, Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Roland Kirk, Albert Ayler. But my music addresses itself to a universal kind of feeling that transcends decades and everything else. That's not to say that other musics don't do that. But I'm totally into the spiritual value of the music." That roster of greats aside, however, David S. Ware is not one of those musicians who carries a checklist of role models around in his head, ticking off one after another as he proceeds from derivative piece to derivative piece. You can attribute specific aspects of Ware's style to one or another of the players who've caught his ear over the years – if you don't feel vibrations in the air, Jack, you're dead. But Ware always sounds like himself. Multi-instrumentalism lets him expand his concept, even as he attends to each of his instruments' particular strengths.
Great Bliss – which was conceived as a two-installment project, by the way; the second volume will be every bit as strong as this one – marks the first time Ware has played flute on records. But his douhle-and triple-tonguing, and the clear, reedy sound he gets, sets him apart from most saxophonists who take up that instrument. Ware has been working hard on the flute for several years, and the woodshedding has paid audible dividends. Listen to the first few minutes of "Forward Motion" for proof.
I'm particularly taken by Ware's stritch and saxello work here; on either horn his sound is a throaty, compelling holler that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Stritch, and the saxello's cousin the manzello, are of course closely associated with Roland Kirk. David says both horns date from the 1930s, when about 500 of each were made for use as band instruments. Both are fingered exactly like saxophones, and have conical bores like saxes. The saxello is really a B-flat soprano, except that the bell juts out at a 90-degree angle, and there's a slight crook at the neck.
The stritch is an E-flat alto, shaped much like the saxello, except it has only a slight crook before the bell as well as at the neck. Both horns have a vocal quality similar to that of the traditional straight soprano; the sound seems to leap out of them. "Roland Kirk was really my catalyst to play the flute and the stritch," David says. "I appreciated so much what he did on them. I heard those instruments as an open field – an open sky. A sound that grabs the ear. The night before I bought the stritch, I had a dream that I was holding a note on an instrument, and that note was so fulfilling. I didn't know what that horn was. But I had seen a stritch hanging in a repair shop in Greenwich Village, and decided to get it. I went back and bought the saxello a month later.
His fascination with these relatively recent acquisitions aside, Ware is still best known as a tenor player – that's the horn he started with, the one he played during extended stints with Cecil Taylor and with Andrew Cyrille in the mid-'70s, the one featured on his own previous alhums for Hat Hut, Palm and Silkheart, Ware's darkly brawny and full-throated sound on tenor is partially explained by the fact that he uses the most open mouthpiece that'll play in tune – a cavernous #10 model he had to special order. (Ware is a barrelchested man with no shortage of lungpower.) But there's much more to this sound than the mechanics – every note conveys how seriously he takes his music. "You have to be very cautious with the saxophone,"David says. "The instrument is so powerful, sometimes the body cannot assimilate all that energy, sound and power your nervous system has to deal with. The flute is a very powerful instrument too – playing it involves a pure airstream.
"With wind instruments, you're always dealing with air. Air is a purifier. In yoga, they use the term prana. The closest translation we can come up with is 'the lifeforce that's in the air.' In yoga, there are thousands of breathing exercises used to purify the body. But you have to do them as prescribed; if you do them wrong, you could hurt yourself.
"You could spend 100 percent of your time working on each of these instruments – the flute, the tenor, saxello and stritch – and I'm sorry I can't spend all day on each of them. But you've got to know how much you can practice every day – after that, you can go and relax. Everyone was amazed by the things Rahsaan played – circular breathing, and playing three instruments at one time – but now he's gone. I'm not saying he shouldn't have done that, but there's a risk involved."
Ware's caution explains one of the appealing things about his playing: for all his passion, he leaves space in his lines; for all his force, he doesn't crowd your ears. Which is not to say that he's taking it easy. "It's great to have a challenge. In music, there are certain problems to be overcome, that are inherent in a composition or a certain instrument, problems you have to get through to play what you want to play. There's only one way to do that: you've got to practice, you've got to play, and lead a disciplined life. It takes thousands and thousands of hours alone with an instrument. I love solitude – it's a form of bliss for me.
"Along with the other changes happening in the world, regarding the possibilities of the human spirit – like the Berlin Wall coming down – a lot of things should be happening in the arts, music especially. The further we go into the next century, the less garbage we should see and hear. We should awaken to a higher purpose in music.
"Music should bring out the inner quality in individuals and in life. The first purpose of music is not to entertain, but to raise the human spirit. Music is really a science. In India, where circular breathing may have originated, the whole science of music comes through meditation, revealed through silence – seers and saints, sitting in silence." There's a dramatic illustration of his respect for quietude on "Sound Bound" – the six seconds of silence that arrives about nine minutes into the piece. Other musicians might have nervously filled the space. Ware and company understand that silence is a precious as sound. This is a good a place as any to touch on the extraordinary way this music was put together. (It'll be dealt with more fully in the notes to Great Bliss, Vol 2, Silkheart 128.)
The problem with most jazz records is that they're under-rehearsed: by the time the players settle in together, the recording is over. This three-day sesssion was very much the exception – Ware began rehearsing the members of the quartet over three months in advance, and they played for five davs straight before heading into the studio.
In another sense, this music began forming long before that, when David and drummer Marc Edwards began playing together in Boston in 1968; Edwards has been on all but one of David's own dates, and played with him in a 1976 Cecil Taylor unit. Ware and Edwards first crossed paths with bassist William Parker in 1973, in a Taylor Big Band. Edwards and Parker were the rhythm section on Ware's previous album, the 1988 recording Passage to Music (Silkheart 113). When David made it known he was thinking of adding a piano player to the mix, Parker and fellow bassist Reggie Workman both recommended Matthew Shipp, who was 29 at the time of these recordings. His only previous record was a duo set (Sonic Explorations, Cadence Jazz 1037) with a Silkheart stablemate altoist Rob Brown. Shipp's one of the rare pianists who makes extensive use of extended techniques who isn't heavily indebted to Cecil Taylor. "People are going to find out about Matthew very soon," Ware says. "He's one of a kind, even now."
About these sessions in general, David says "It takes a long time to prepare cats, the way I like to do things. The tenor pieces are more permanently structured. As you can hear, "Bliss Theme" and "Thirds" (the latter built on intervals of a third, obviously enough) are harmonized lines, even if David's tongue-talking tenor sails outside the chords. "But the pieces we did with flute, saxello and stritch are pure concept," he continues. "The rehearsals are a performance – we keep working on concepts till they crystallize. You have to know what to do with freedom – you can give yourself enough rope to hang yourself. But when you have the concept and the discipline, and a drug-free nervous system is there, you can really get it. It's an intuitive knitting and intertwining. Each thread comes together to make the fabric that is the piece."
Indeed, given the high spirits and raw edge that helps characterize this music, there's a wealth of wondrous detail to be heard as these pieces blossom. Take the way Parker's singing arco bass figure intertwines with Shipp's descending chords a little over seven minutes into "Forward Motion," their interplay eventually dissolving into Edwards' trap-set vignette. These pieces order themselves: on "Cadenza," the rhythm players drop out – to let the leader's stritch dance on its own – then dive back in, in spontaneous call and response. The subsequent solos evolve naturally out of the texture of the music. Indeed, the discovery of organic form in the playing is one of the marvels of improvised music, and one of the key pleasures of Great Bliss.
"I hope people take the time to sit down and listen to this music, to give it a chance," David S. Ware says as he brings our talk to a close. "Don't come to it with any preconceived notions. Just empty yourself and let the music take you. For those who like to travel, instead of getting on a bus or a train, put it on. It'll take you somewhere."
not the dull colors
of this morning's
now in masses
these colors disperse
with the oncoming
the music bounces from one
skin to another
one human cloud
moving eastward – moving northward
the skin outward up &
the crowd gathers for
the matinee performance
we – even the rooted – are gypsies
the cadenza pushing
beneath the heart.
Sound On Sound Studios
1. Forward Motion 12:11
2. Angular 05:19
3. Bliss Theme 09:02
4. Cadenza 11:48
5. Sound Bound 12:08
6. Mind Time 04:28
7. Saxelloscape One 04:33
8. Thirds 13:55
David S. Ware flute, tenor sax, saxello, stritch
Matthew Shipp piano
William Parker bass
Marc Edwards drums, tympany, chimes, bells, percussion