A few decades can make a world of difference in how a jazz musician’s playing is heard by a general-listening audience. In the 1970s, as a young man getting his first worldwide exposure with pianist Cecil Taylor’s group, tenor saxophonist David S. Ware was regarded as a radical, a rancorous force who would push the music relentlessly.
Time hasn’t exactly softened Ware’s approach, but it has allowed him to expand the range of his pallet. What is now clear is that Ware likes to operate from a highly structured framework, giving himself plenty of room to work. “Organica” suggests the slight oxymoron of compositional organization and spontaneously organic development. These juxtapositions are deliberate; Ware uses and, indeed, needs both elements. Organica consists of four long pieces with just two titles. He plays soprano saxophone on the two “Mingus Gravity” compositions (numbered 1 and 2) and tenor on “Organica” (likewise, 1 and 2). His conceptual approach to both instruments is similar, but his tonal approach is markedly different. On soprano, Ware’s tone is big, liquid and very reedy, occasionally pitched deliberately slightly flat or slightly sharp. On tenor, he’s more garrulous, with a deep, burly sound that owes something to the classic Hawkins/Webster/Rollins lineage.
“Mingus Gravity 1″ starts off with a simple theme based on an altered minor scale. Ware builds slowly, playing around with both pitch and velocity. The effect is much like the approach Ethiopian saxophonists or Moroccan reed players take when improvising, with Ware moving into what would generally be heard of as “jazz” midway through the piece. Ware’s focus and patience are impressive; he stays the course over 16 minutes, keeping things together through solid logic. “Organica 1″ is a powerful, almost bluesy statement. Ware tends to play relatively digestible phrases, pausing before elaborating or moving forward to a new theme that connects to the previous one. Embellishment is established through extreme alterations in tone and pitch or velocity. For music as aggressive as this, what emerges is surprisingly listener friendly. On tenor especially, there’s a kind of expansiveness of spirit. The live recording of “Mingus Gravity 2″ is similar to its predecessor in approach, and it’s interesting to hear how Ware makes slight variations from performance to performance. “2″ is more linear than “1″ in its preoccupation, more concerned with articulating long lines. I’m struck by how rigorously the saxophonist holds to one key as a touchpoint for his ideas. “Organica 2″ mirrors its earlier incarnation as a bluesy non-blues — a blues in spirit though not in form. Brusquer and more hortatory than the other three pieces, I find it to be the most satisfying selection on the album. Ironclad in its internal reasoning, it balances power and analysis perfectly. That David S. Ware can play a solo saxophone piece of this length entirely on his own terms, dictating the nature of its architecture in such a personal manner, is a stellar achievement.