[15 November 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Reviewing this album is a toughie. Those of you reading this review are probably already more than curious about saxophonist extraordinaire David S. Ware. If you aren’t that familiar with him, then a 77-minute album of solo saxophone performances is probably just about the last thing that would be considered a lure for you. These kinds of albums are capable of even driving the free-jazz fans crazy. I had a brief conversation with one such fan on some message board, where he admitted to walking out of a Roscoe Mitchell solo performance. They like their music cerebral and challenging, but everyone has their limits. Enough was enough, this guy was telling us. So how do we go about discussing the un-discussable?
For one thing, David S. Ware has played the big league, major label game. Granted, it wasn’t for very long, but his addition to the Columbia roster in the late ‘90s was an attempt to bring an art form hard up on popularity to a wider audience. For a while, it seemed to be working, as David Fricke’s liner notes for 2000’s Surrendered tell the story of Ware’s band winning over a crowd that had paid to see Sonic Youth. It may be hard to detect at first, but there is crossover appeal at work. Secondly, Ware is no stranger to the absolute solo format. He did this same thing a year ago on Saturnian: Solo Saxophones, Volume 1, one of the first projects he took on after receiving a kidney transplant (the idea of circular breathing continues to baffle me, let alone doing it while still recovering from a procedure that replaces one of your organs). This experience is channeled into the next entry of the solo series, Organica (Solo Saxophones, Volume 2).
There are additional variables to consider. For one thing, this album is made up of two programs, the first one coming from a very private Brooklyn performance and the second one from Ware’s slot at the Umbrella Music Festival in Chicago. In addition to that, Ware took two horns with him to each gig. The one you see on the cover is his sopranino, which he plays first at each show. The rest of the sets are played on the tenor sax. Organica (Solo Saxophones, Volume 2) consists of only four tracks; “Minus Gravity 1”, “Organica 1”, “Minus Gravity 2”, and “Organica 2”. The “Gravity” ones are the sopranino numbers and the album’s namesakes are for the tenor with one=Brooklyn and two=Chicago.
The differences between the two “Minus Gravity” tracks probably owe a lot to the nature of the venues. The invitation-only Brooklyn performance likely had a smaller crowd (No applause is included between numbers), keeping Ware’s flights of fancy on the sopranino lower to the ground. He can still rattle off a mean million-notes-long lick, but it’s the Chicago engagement that finds him pushing the instrument into its upper register. If “Minus Gravity 1” is a virtuosic search disguised as a meditation, then “Minus Gravity 2” jumps in the air and stays there for a good six minutes longer than its prequel. The same thing happens to a lesser degree for “Organica”. The Brooklyn rendition sounds like Ware is leading the room in some kind of free-jazz yoga session designed to push someone off into blissful distraction, going on for over 24 minutes. The Chicago track has a bluesy kind of skronk to offset its companion track, making his saxophone appropriately more dirty for the devoted jazz faithfuls in attendance. And an appreciative crowd they are. Since the operation, they are probably relishing Ware’s continued presence more and more each passing day.
So that’s what you have: 77 minutes from the emotional gut filtered through studied hands. It’s not soul music, but it is music from the soul that acts as a radical form of escapism. I imagine it’s better to see it in person, but Organica (Solo Saxophones, Volume 2) is certainly close enough.