David S. Ware

Earthquation

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The cover painting of cyclonic swirls and color squiggles emanating from the bell of Ware's tenor sax offers a pretty good visual portrayal of what his music sounds like. Like his most recent outings, Earthquation mixes in a couple of standards -- "Canadian Sunset," and two takes on "Tenderly" -- along with the original, and the group sound has solidified with Whit Dickey in the drum chair.

It's also easier to hear Ware and company as operating at the junction where John Coltrane's spirit force and Cecil Taylor's techniques meet. An oversimplification, probably, but not the worst guide to the opening explosion of "Canadian Sunset," with Matthew Shipp's bass rumbles very prominent before taking the volume down for a bowed William Parker solo with piano support. The knotty, twisted theme of "Inverse Alchemy" calms down when turned over to Shipp, and the first "Tenderly" features Ware's huge, mellifluous tone, and some fuzzy Albert Ayler splotches on a pretty straightforward take.

There's a big problem, though -- the sound is drastically compressed, which creates much density, but makes you want to send out a search party for Parker, who's all but buried between Dickey and Shipp, let alone by Ware, when he comes in. You can barely hear his bowed bass take the melodic lead on "Ideational Blue," an effectively abstract mood piece where Shipp really shines with continuous lines, and Ware's harmonics generate whistle effects to create high musical drama by emphasizing tonal qualities more than melodic statements. "Cococana" pits Ware's burry flurries against Shipp's block chords before feinting at a straight-ahead stretch, but Dickey's cymbal clicks are grating by being mixed so much higher than the rest of his kit.

By now, the frustration level is running equally high because the music is unfolding organically, but you don't feel like you're hearing all that's there, particularly in the full-bore, up-tempo passages. Ware's playing is powerful and assured, and Shipp seems a little less prominent, but who can really tell? Earthquation is almost certainly a lesser work in the David S. Ware discography, but the surest conclusion is that the sonic equation will cheat most listeners out of the chance -- or the desire -- to find out.

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