Home of the Free and the Brave

William Parker, lost in bass
Thirsty Ear Records

I'm about as spiritual as a lint brush, but something or everything about David S. Ware's hocus pocus fire music brings out the incense burner in me. This year's Live in The World (Thirsty Ear), a three-CD set drawn from concerts recorded in 1998 and 2003 in Switzerland and Italy, has the tenor saxophonist roiling, ululating, and swinging, through epic originals and pieces by Sonny Rollins and, be not afraid, Marvin Hamlisch. On the right night, Ware could turn "Three Blind Mice" into an intense study of what number theory, vision, and rodents are really all about. So it's not surprising that he makes as much out of "The Way We Were" as he does out of Rollins's "Freedom Suite."

One of the ways we were was idealistic about the power of free jazz to fight injustice and war and banality and vanity, and Ware, it seems, still is that way, the sap. Pianist Matthew Shipp, who is at his best with Ware, ranges widely and expressively, William Parker issues another draft of How to Make the Upright Bass Sound Like the Voice of Walter Cronkite Only Better, and the contributions of drummers Susie Ibarra, Hamid Drake, and Guillermo E. Brown (heard separately) create distinct versions of the quartet for each disc.

I'm not entirely sure about this, but I believe that every time the pope sneezes, a new record featuring William Parker hits record shelves (well, a few of them). Of his two '05 albums as a leader, Luc's Lantern (Thirsty Ear), a trio date with pianist Eri Yamamoto and drummer Michael Thompson, is the more accessible and less interesting outing. Parker's sonorous bass is always a pleasure to hear and, in certain wind conditions, ballads such as "Song for Tyler" and "Evening Star Song" actually give off an enticing perfume. Several of the album's tunes, though, are just sturdy ostinatos with "poetic" names ("Mourning Sunset"--oh brother). And while few selections go by without moments of inspiration, the whole affair is a bit too restrained for its own good.

If Live in the World is closest in spirit to John Coltrane's '60s quartet, Sound Unity (Aum Fidelity), a live set by Parker's quartet, ultimately seems to follow from Ornette Coleman's late-'50s/early-'60s band. Parker's squiggly melodies frame lots of free improv with trumpeter Lewis Barnes, alto saxophonist Rob Brown, and my current favorite drummer Hamid Drake, who sounds as if he's knitting with barbershop poles. The sluggish 20-minute title track might be one of those you-had-to-be-there deals. Had I been there, I might have gone to get a soda, much as I dig the "follow the yellow brick road" reference in the middle. On the whole, though, the group balances its expressionism and its abstraction till you don't know or care which is which--which is the idea, of course.

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