Nippon Kan Theater, 547-6763, $16 8 p.m. Fri., Aug. 17
AT JUST OVER 50 years old, David S. Ware is suddenly the cat. Musicians get anointed as surely as do religious and political figures, and Ware is now the sovereign of spiritual free jazz—recognized not just by the music's marginal audience but by the power brokers as well.
He had a two-record deal (now over) with the giant Sony/Columbia label. He just did a two-night engagement at the Blue Note in New York—a club usually partial to a prepackaged, corporate- sanctioned sound, not the overpowering squalls of Ware. And Village Voice critic Gary Giddins this month declared Ware's quartet "the best small band in jazz today." Now the group is setting out on Ware's first-ever tour of the West Coast.
It's not that he hasn't earned his seat: In an age of self-conscious, Zorn-ified improv—free jazz with a smirk—Ware goes for full-on rapture. His brawling tenor sound is rooted in the questing, quasi-religious explorations of '60s Impulse! recordings, rather than the post-mod, miniaturist concoctions of today's downtown scene.
With his ceremonial African garb, Ware makes plain the seriousness of his purpose, and he backs it up with a colossal outpouring of fervid sound, the sincerity of which is never in doubt. There is a doggedness to Ware's playing, reminiscent of Coltrane's compulsion to (as Miles disapprovingly put it) "say everything." But Ware also maintains a kind of spiritual reserve; he is earnest but not caught up, like a man speaking in tongues, thoughtfully.
Listeners who discovered the saxophonist through his recent major-label work—he was signed to Columbia by Branford Marsalis—might have wondered what all the fuss was about. Last year's disc, Surrendered, for example, was beautiful and moving; yet for a man with Ware's press sheet, it all sounded a touch too indebted to the masters, as if the past 30 years had never happened. He was even still toying around with the vamp from "My Favorite Things."
What a difference a label makes. Ware's newest quartet recording, Corridors & Parallels, due out next month, is on tiny AUM Fidelity, a Brooklyn outfit known for its uncompromising embrace of the free sound, and it sets to rest any question about Ware's ability to chart a new course. With the great 40-year-old pianist Matthew Shipp abusing a tripped-out retro synthesizer, Ware bursts in with an insistence of ideas that never lets up. The forms are skewed, the blowing intense, and there's no softening some of the ecstatic outbursts. The bottom of Ware's band is filled out by the avant-garde veteran William Parker on bass, while young drummer Guillermo E. Brown contributes that contemporary percussive style that is aggressively engaged, yet strangely without nameable qualities. The disc's title track, which has all four musicians pulling in different directions, yet somehow moving forward together, is particularly stunning.
If all goes well, this could be one of the most outward-aiming and memorable Seattle sessions since Live in Seattle itself.