Pianist Matthew Shipp was a member of saxophonist David S. Ware’s quartet for 17 years, yet by Shipp’s estimation, the two of them probably gave only a half-dozen duo concerts during that time. One of those shows, a recording from late 2004 at the Sant’Ann Arresi Jazz Festival, is being released as the second entry in AUM Fidelity’s David S. Ware Archive Series. This ongoing retrospective of deep, deep cuts got off to a sprinting start with 2015’s Birth of a Being, a double album of Ware and his early band Apogee burning their way through nine fat slices of crazy, free jazz. Now, with Live in Sant’Anna Arresi, 2004, the uncompromising musical voice of David S. Ware rages on long after his 2012 passing.
At the time that this concert took place, both Ware and Shipp had prolific careers as band leaders, and even though Shipp was Ware’s subordinate in a technical sense, the two had to completely abandon the idea of either one being a group “leader” when they took the stage that night in Italy. According to Shipp, the working dynamic within the quartet still informed their playing: “[T]he end result of what we did here is different and divorced from the quartet”, the pianist writes in the album’s liner notes, “but the resonance between David and I in the quartet allowed it to unfold in this way”. Their roles may have been altered, but their instincts remained intact and this allowed the two musicians to jam for 45 minutes without playing a “song”.
Live in Sant’Anna Arresi is made up of only three tracks; both “Tao Flow, Pt. 1” and “Tao Flow, Pt. 2” are over twenty minutes in length each, while the “Encore” wraps up the program with Shipp and Ware cheekily trading licks for only four minutes. Both musicians use the full pallet of their instruments to create a messy and creative sound that tries its best to halt the earth. “Every performance we felt like we were changing the world and lighting up the stars”, Shipp confesses in the album sleeve. “We felt we were on a cosmic mission to bend space-time”. That much is obvious within the album’s first five minutes. They aren’t going halfway on anything, yet they’re able to sustain that very intensity for another 40 minutes. Even when Shipp seems to be playing almost every other key on his piano at once while Ware manages to take his horn from the highest squeak to the lowest honk in a fraction of a second, they are still running on a surplus of energy.
Live in Sant’Anna Arresi 2004 is one of those releases in which even the most carefully-worded assessment isn’t going to give you the best impression of the music. The language that David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp cultivated together is not a written one, so it stands to reason that the written word can’t capture accurately Shipp’s rapturous playing or Ware’s soulful cries over the crowd. That’s what listening is for, and Live in Sant’Anna Arresi 2004 requires plenty of that.