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David S. Ware String Ensemble

Threads

(Thirsty Ear; US: 7 Oct 2003; UK: 27 Oct 2003)

At the center of Threads, the new album from beloved NYC saxophonist David S. Ware, is the 12-minute title track, which is quite simply one of the most stirring pieces of music I’ve heard in an extremely long time. Like the rest of the album, “Threads” is not one of the explosive improvised free-jazz blowouts that Ware is heralded for, but a piece that he composed, with strings and synthesizer as the predominant instruments. In fact, Ware doesn’t play on “Threads” at all, and barely plays on Threads either. Instead, center stage is taken up by Mat Maneri on viola, Daniel Bernard Roumain on violin, and Matthew Shipp on synthesizer (a Korg Triton Pro X), with bassist William Parker and drummer Guillermo E. Brown playing support. Shipp’s playing on “Threads” consists of impressionistic waves, a bed for the strings to interact over. The track is fairly simple: there’s a basic melody line that repeats, as the players work it along in rather low-key fashion. The reason “Threads” is so impressive is hard to pinpoint. It doesn’t have complicated arrangements or showstopping improvisation. It sounds less like “jazz,” more like an ambient mood-piece (a la Eluvium, Brian Eno, or some of Yo La Tengo’s instrumentals on The Sounds of the Sounds of Science). It’s an unassuming track that just floats along until it disappears, but as it does so it really hits you in the heart, evoking that unnamable feeling that is part sadness, part joy, part absolute peace with the world.


The music throughout Threads is evocative of the mood in the wee hours between one day and another, that quiet period where nothing’s going on (or is everything?). In other words, it’s dreamy and it moves like a cloud. The opening track, “Ananda Rotation” (one of three tracks that Ware appears on), opens up slowly and, like “Threads”, glides along without ever really taking off. That leads into the most propulsive track, if not the most hectic: “Sufic Passages”, with a bassline somewhat reminiscent of “A Love Supreme” and a surface dominated by manic but peaceful strings and chords of synth.


Ware’s two other appearances on sax are “Weave I” and “Weave II”. Serving as bookends around “Threads” and its companion piece, “Carousel of Lightness” (which is like a somewhat looser extension of “Threads”), they come off like the most improvised tracks on the album, even though they were apparently composed along with the other tracks. Here, Ware and Brown play off each other for a few minutes, using the same base melody in each case. As one work of music, the six tracks on Threads together present one mood, but it’s one with many subtle textures and feelings. It feels like Ware is reaching toward an album that stands by itself as one cohesive statement, and if he doesn’t quite reach that level of unity among the tracks, he is close.


Ware and his companions—especially Parker and Shipp—are as highly regarded as anyone in modern jazz today. That attention comes mostly from their stature as improvisers, but with Threads Ware makes his mark as a composer of note as well. He’s said in interviews that, to him, composing and improvising are essentially the same thing, that improvising is just a sped-up version of the composition process. On Threads, that perspective can be heard tangibly, as it’s hard to separate out what sounds written beforehand versus written on the spot. It’s all part of the same act of playing jazz, an act that is spotlighted beautifully throughout Threads. And if Threads won’t immediately make Ware as well known as a composer as he is as a player, it definitely serves as a loud call that his skills don’t end with his saxophone.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine ErasingClouds.com, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.


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